NEW YORK (Reuters) - Best-selling author Kurt Andersen isn’t a spy, but that didn’t stop him from writing his latest novel about a group of friends who hatch a James-Bond-like plot amid the tumult of the 1960s in the United States.
“True Believers,” which hit shelves earlier this month, tells the tale of a celebrated lawyer, Karen Hollander, whose childhood James Bond games with her friends Chuck and Alex spins into real-life political intrigue during the politically charged year of 1968.
Now in her 60s, Karen tries to reconcile her secret radical past with her prestigious present as she writes her memoir and bonds with her 17-year-old Occupy activist granddaughter.
Although the year 1968 has been practically mythologized in popular culture, Andersen, 57, who is host of the Peabody-winning public radio program “Studio 360,” said it’s not without good reason.
“It is this year like no other. I was 13 in 1968, and even to a 13-year-old with a happy family as in my case, there was a sense that things were coming unraveled in some bizarre new way,” he told Reuters. “I wanted to do a book on the 60s that was true to the sense that a lot of young people had, that these are the most serious times ever, but also with a sense of fun.”
Karen’s former radicalism is a touchstone for the time she spends with granddaughter Waverly, who she accompanies to an Occupy protest in Florida. Waverly laments that “most protests (today) seem like cover versions of old songs, like we’re all in a ‘60s tribute band.”
Andersen agrees with his character that, while many political grievances voiced by today’s left-wing activists come from the same roots as those in the 1960s, the contours of political movements in the United States are different from those from 50 years ago.
“There were two demands - end the draft and end the war - whereas today, the Occupy movement for better or worse, does not have a demand,” he said. “It’s ‘We believe that money corrupts politics. We believe there’s too much inequality,’ and on and on, but there is no demand.”
Still, he wouldn’t rule out a future political and cultural earthquake on the scale of the one he writes about in “True Believers.”
“During the financial meltdown and then Occupy the last couple years, I thought, okay, maybe this is the turning point and it may still be,” he said. “In 1961, no one thought what would happen in the next eight years would happen, or could happen, so you never know until the black swan looms and everything’s new.”
“True Believers” wends back and forth between Karen’s childhood and young adulthood in the 1960s and her perspective as a lawyer who was once short-listed for the Supreme Court in the year 2013. But one thing that lurks throughout the book is her secret and deadly plan from 1968, which has threatened to destroy her life for all the years in between.
Karen contemplates how an act such as hers would be even more difficult to keep under wraps amid the flood of information from social media and the 24-hour news cycle of her older years. Andersen thinks these innovations have changed what the public finds shocking.
“I think it has more the effect of inuring us to it and kind of raising the bar for what someone has to do to be covered in shame or it being shocking,” he said, citing the relatively small fusses made about former presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s love life and about President Barack Obama’s admission that he had used cocaine.
Even with increased scrutiny, Andersen believes that all people have secrets and it is still possible to keep them.
“Those kinds of things are more easily revealed and people become accustomed to them, but that doesn’t mean that people still don’t have small and large secrets,” he said. “I think that even in this TMI age, we all have shadowy parts of ourselves that we don’t make public.”
Reporting By Andrea Burzynski; editing by Patricia Reaney and Andre Grenon