o: a presidential novel by anonymous

When you went to a traveling American circus in the nineteenth century, you got scammed. Pay for the freak show, and you’d sometimes be offered the chance, for a bit more money, to see the “Feejee Mermaid.” A real life mermaid! How could you pass this up? You’d pay, walk past the illustrations of some creature out of Hans Christian Andersen, and be greeted by the torso, arms and head of a monkey stitched to the body of a fish. It was compelling taxidermy, but not quite what you paid for.

O: A Presidential Novel is a Feejee Mermaid. Simon & Schuster promoted the book to journalists as an all-too-real, anonymous account of how President Barack Obama acts and thinks, from someone who had been “in the room” with the president. One slogan dreamed up for the book was “What’s Between Those EARS?” A Washington Post poll let readers guess the identity of the author (presumably before most of them had cracked it open). The options included Rahm Emanuel, Christopher Buckley, and President Obama himself.

The decidedly minimal fun of this guessing game was snuffed out in a week. Mark Halperin, co-author of the gossipy 2008 campaign account Game Change, confirmed that O was written by Mark Salter. Salter had been “in the room” with Barack Obama, sure. More notably, he’d spent 20 years in the company of John McCain, co-writing the senator’s two memoirs and three books of moral advice. Reporters—the intended audience for O—knew Salter as the author of McCain’s most ringing speeches, the ur-protector and ur-promoter of his image, and the sender of e-mails, or “Saltergrams,” scorching them for stories he considered unfair. (Disclosure time: I’ve been in a couple of rooms with Barack Obama. Also I once got a curt-but-fair e-mail from Salter after I penned a Reason magazine piece he didn’t like.)

So O, set during a theoretical 2012 presidential campaign, isn’t an insider’s account of Barack Obama and his world. The author is one of the people who was most dedicated to defeating Obama. This isn’t what Simon & Schuster promised, but it’s a solid background for a first-time political novelist. The average roman a clef from a debut author draws on his or her experience with school or heartbreak or drugs. This author spent years of his life building up a politician only to see him bronzed for history as the guy who lost to the First Black President.

via o: a presidential novel by anonymous – bookforum.com / the daily review.


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