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'O,' the novel (so, yep, fiction) of Obama's 2012 campaign

January 18, 2011 |  3:02 pm

Obyanonymous The novel "O," which officially hits shelves next week, is landing on desks in medialand today. Some select journalists (I'm not among them) were asked to refrain from commenting on whether or not they're the author -- because "O" is officially written by Anonymous.

Publisher Simon & Schuster does not want any hints pointing to who the author of "O" might or might not be. The only thing that they do reveal is that Anonymous has in fact stood in the same room as President Obama. Which narrows it down to -- oh gee, that's gonna be a big number.

"O" is a novel of the 2012 election. Which, of course, hasn't happened yet. That is a major feature distinguishing it from "Primary Colors," the 1996 book about a presidential campaign written by Anonymous.

"Primary Colors" was a roman-a-clef about Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign, so it promised highlights like media scandals, a tense and ambitious wife, a drunken sibling, and ladies who need to be handled. It reflected one of the most lively campaigns in recollection. It also had something going for it -- Joe Klein, a longtime journalist whose writing came alive in the book.

Can "O" pull off the same excitement? Is a fictional account of a campaign that has not yet happened going to be as amusing as a fictional account of one people remember -- one that will, indeed, begin all too soon?

What's more, can fiction hope to compete with the real thing? Theodore H. White created the gold standard of nonfiction campaign chronicles with "The Making of the President, 1960" in which he looked at candidates, up close, from the campaign's beginning to end. His book about the 1960 campaign was so successful -- it won the Pulitzer Prize and was a bestseller -- that White went on to write "The Making of the President, 1964," "The Making of the President, 1968," "The Making of the President, 1972." These books prove that truth is stranger than fiction: Who would think a man running for president would cry during a press conference -- then, after denying that he had shed tears, quit the Democratic primary race over the incident? Edmund Muskie did -- but can you sell such a crazy story in a novel?

As for Anonymous, it took about six months before Klein admitted he was the one who'd written "Primary Colors." That was in 1996, when the Internet speed was counted in bauds -- now, how long will it take for Anonymous to be revealed?

 -- Carolyn Kellogg

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