In True Believers. Kurt Andersen - the New York Times best-selling and critically acclaimed author of Heyday and Turn of the Century - delivers his most powerful and moving novel yet. Dazzling in its wit and effervescent insight, this kaleidoscopic tour de force of cultural observation and seductive storytelling alternates between the present and the 1960s - and indelibly captures the enduring impact of that time on the ways we live now.
Karen Hollander is a celebrated attorney who recently removed herself from consideration for appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Her reasons have their roots in 1968 - an episode she's managed to keep secret for more than 40 years. Now, with the imminent publication of her memoir, she's about to let the world in on that shocking secret - as soon as she can track down the answers to a few crucial last questions.
As junior-high-school kids back in the early '60s, Karen and her two best friends, Chuck and Alex, roamed suburban Chicago on their bikes looking for intrigue and excitement. Inspired by the exotic romance of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels, they acted out elaborate spy missions pitting themselves against imaginary Cold War villains. As friendship carries them through childhood and on to college - in a polarized late-sixties America riven by war and race as well as sex, drugs, and rock and roll - the bad guys cease to be the creatures of make-believe. Caught up in the fervor of that extraordinary and uncanny time, they find themselves swept into a dangerous new game with the highest possible stakes.
Today, only a handful of people are left who know what happened. As Karen reconstructs the past and reconciles the girl she was then with the woman she is now, finally sharing pieces of her secret past with her national-security-cowboy boyfriend and Occupy-activist granddaughter, the power of memory and history and luck become clear.
A resonant coming-of-age st...
My publishers signed me up a year ago to write a book, but not this
book. “A candid and inspirational memoir by one of the most
accomplished leaders and thinkers of our times,” their press release
promised. They think they’re getting a slightly irreverent fleshing
out of my shiny curriculum vitae, a plainspoken, self-congratulatory
chronicle of A Worthy Life in the Law and the Modern Triumph of American
Women, which they’re publishing, ho-hum premise notwithstanding,
because I’ve written a couple of best sellers and appear on TV a lot.
By far the most interesting thing about my life, however, is nowhere in
my résumé or official bio or Wikipedia entry. I’m not exactly who
the world believes I am. Let me cut to the chase: I once set out to
commit a spectacular murder, and people died.
But it’s not a simple story. It needs to be unpacked very carefully.
Like a bomb.
Trust me, okay?
I am reliable. I am an oldest child. Highly imperfect, by no stretch a
goody-goody. But I was a reliable U.S. Supreme Court clerk and then a
reliable Legal Aid lawyer, representing with all the verve and cunning I
could muster some of the most pathetically, tragically unreliable people
on earth. I have been a reliable partner in America’s nineteenth
largest law firm, a reliable author of four books, a reliable law
professor, a reliable U.S. Justice Department official, a reliable law
school dean. I’ve been a reliable parent—as trustworthy a servant,
teacher, patron, defender, and worshipper of my children as anyone could
reasonably demand, and I think on any given day at least one of the two
of them would agree.
I was not an entirely reliable wife for the last decade of my marriage,
although my late ex, during our final public fight, called me
“reliable to a goddamned fault,” which is probably true. And which
may be why the surprising things I did immediately afterward—grabbing
his BlackBerry out of his hand and hurling it into a busy New York
street, filing for divorce, giving up my law firm partnership, accepting
a job that paid a fifth as much, moving three thousand miles away—made
him more besotted by me than he’d ever seemed before. As my friend
Alex said at the time, “That’s funny—telling Jack Wu ‘Fuck
you’ finally made him really want to fuck you.”
I am reliable, but I’m not making the case that reliability is the
great human virtue. Nor am I even making the case that reliability is my
great virtue. In fact, after four decades in the law, I’ve lost my
animal drive for making cases for the sake of making cases, for strictly
arguing one of two incompatible versions of the truth, for telling
persuasive stories by omitting or twisting certain facts.
So I am not arguing a case here. I’m not setting out to defend myself
any more than I am to indict myself. I’m determined to tell something
like the whole truth—which, by the way, I don’t believe has ever
been done in any American court of law. To tell the whole truth in a
legal case would require a discovery process and trial that lasted
years, hundreds of witnesses each testifying for many weeks apiece, and
rules of evidence rewritten to permit not just hearsay and improperly
obtained information but iffy memories of certain noises and aromas and
hallucinatory hunches, what a certain half-smile or drag on a cigarette
decades ago did or didn’t signify during some breathless three a.m.
In any event, for the purposes of this book, I am extremely reliable. I
have files. Since long before I went to law school, for half a century
now—half a century!—I’ve saved every diary and journal, every
letter I ever received, catechism worksheets, term papers, restaurant
receipts, train schedules, ticket stubs, snapshots, Playbills. At the
beginning, my pack-ratting impulse was curatorial, as if I were director
of the Karen Hollaender Museum and Archive. I know that sounds
narcissistic, but when I was a kid, it seemed like a way to give the
future me a means of knowing what the past and perpetually present me
was actually like. Prophylactic forensics, you could say.
My memory has always been excellent, but the reason I’m telling my
story now is also about maximizing reliability: I’m old enough to
forgo the self-protective fibs and lies but still young enough to get
the memoir nailed down before the memories begin disintegrating.
Only one in a hundred people my age suffer dementia, and the Googled
Internet is like a prosthetic cerebral cortex and hippocampus, letting
us subcontract sharpness and outsource memory. But after sixty-five?
Atrocious: the incidence of neurodegenerative disease increases tenfold
during that decade, and it’s worse for women. I turn sixty-five next
So, anyhow, here’s my point: I am a reliable narrator. Unusually
reliable. Trust me.
Excerpted from "True Believers: A Novel" by Kurt Andersen. Copyright © 2012 by Kurt Andersen. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.