REVIEW: True Believers by Kurt Andersen

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars, Genre: Fiction, Pages: 448, Level: Intermediate

Book Description from Barnes & Noble:

In True Believers, Kurt Andersen- the New York Times bestselling 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 forty 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 sixties, 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 story and a thrilling political mystery, True Believers is Kurt Andersen’s most ambitious novel to date, introducing a brilliant, funny, and irresistible new heroine to contemporary fiction.

Note: I received a complimentary advance copy of True Believers through Goodreads.

This is the story of Karen Hollander. Hollander has turned down a possible U.S. Supreme Court nomination. Instead, she decides to write an autobiography, which will reveal a secret about something she and her two best friends did while in college. We are led to believe that it is something so awful, several government agencies covered it up. But she wants to confirm and fill in some details first and finding that info is not easy.

The story goes back and forth between Hollander’s story when she was young and then what is currently going on in her life. The writing is unnecessarily technical in some parts, but other than that, it is not too bad. For me, it was not a quick read; I had to read it a little at a time because it just did not capture my attention to the point that I did not want to put it down.

There is a whole James Bond theme in the book. When Hollander, Alex and Chuck are young, they read the James Bond books and concoct all these mock missions until they one day realize that Bond is just another imperialist puppet. Seriously, if this stuff didn’t really happen, Andersen has a great imagination. When you get some 300 pages in the book, you will understand the relevance of the Bond theme, but it came up so often that it got annoying. Reading the details of their missions was boring and I don’t know if it is a generational thing or because I don’t enjoy James Bond stories. Some of that could have been cut down.

Acronyms. Ack! My father and husband are Marines, so I hear acronyms all the time, but even I got sick and tired of hearing all the acronyms. It made me think of Good Morning Vietnam- “Seeing as how the VP is such a VIP, shouldn’t we keep the PC on the QT, because if it leaks to the VC, you could end up an MIA, and then we’d all be put on KP.”

While my interest did increase about mid-way, the book never got to the point of being a page turner. In my opinion, it could have benefit from a little more editing. I ended up using it as my book to read right before I went to bed. I am not insinuating that it put me to sleep, but it was not a book that I would carry around with me because I wanted every opportunity to squeeze in a page or paragraph whenever I had the opportunity. There are some really good parts in the book and if it sounds like something you might be interested in reading, I recommend you give it a try.

Reviewed by Christina

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