True Believers by Kurt Andersen (3 out of 5)



I was excited to finally read this book. We had about 50 million copies at the store when we opened three years ago, but for some reason, about 40 million other books got to me before I got to this one. Anything that has any sort of being in the sixties is going to eventually make its way into my reading pile. 

I did enjoy this book, although not as much as Lauren Groff’s Arcadia. When Groff’s book came out last spring, there were comparisons to this. I found no comparison, unless you look in the time period. However, this was reliving the 60’s through the memories of the main character as she’s preparing to write her memoir. Groff’s book was a whole different ball game. 

Karen Hollander is 64 and just took herself out of the running to be a Supreme Court judge. Why? Why else would someone do that? They have something to hide (or they pull a Weiner, Anthony Weiner). Something happened in 1968 that is still haunting her years later, keeping her from trying for something she’s worked her ass off for. In that time period, Karen was best friends with Alex and Chuck. They played James Bond villains in unlikely places. They fell in and out of love with each other, often to disasterous results. They argued over political unrest. They bonded over shared love of equal rights.  They read as much as they could get their hands on, and discussed everything. (A lot of this book reads like a history book on the 60’s. There isn’t a lot that the three friends don’t discuss in great detail). High school gives way to college, with its free love, drugs, and rock n’ roll. Not only are the times a’ changing, so are the three friends. They get caught up in the times and emotions, and something happens that not only haunts Karen, but the other friends who were around at that time. Does Karen let us know what happened? Does she spill the beans in her memoir? Do you still care after all of the reminiscing?

I still cared, because I think Karen is a, pardon the jargon, groovy character. There are parts of her summation where I do want to punch her for her lackadaisical attitude towards life. You feel like she wants to come clean, then she realizes her life isn’t so bad after all, so she shuts the fuck up and sits back to enjoy a nice dinner service. This is just a generalization, by the way. It’s the vibe toward the end of the book. I did enjoy Karen’s reliving and retelling of history from those turbulent times; however, I did not enjoy how laissez faire she is about what sort of consequences may arise from the disclosure. The disconnect bothered me a bit. I did, however really enjoy her sense of humor, especially in dealing with her granddaughter. Highly entertaining. 

However, it didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the book overall, because I did. I liked the way Karen’s father is written in the book; you can see that she gets her strength of character from him and her emotionally repressed side from her mother, who internalizes huge happenings of the 60’s- MLK’s murder, JFK’s assassination, the Pope resigning- until it crushes her. Karen is much the same way. She held all of her secret cards to her chest until it threatens to overwhelm her. Andersen wrote the character in an extremely realistic light. I also liked the character of Alex, although I don’t believe he was made to be a super-sympathetic character. I admired his tenuous hold on reality and his brash bluntness when Karen tells him she’s going to reveal what happened that day in 1968, which of course will reveal his role in it, something he’s not really into dealing with. So what happens?

You honestly have to read this book. I loved the retelling of the 1960’s in such detail. I have read and seen many documentaries on the 60’s (one of my favorite times in history, despite the tragedies that year saw). The book is a quick clomp through that time into the present, but you get the whole story. That’s important toward developing opinions once the truth is revealed. Incredibly easy to read. The only misgivings were that Karen veers from one end of the guilt spectrum to another. Her consistency isn’t quite consistent. Once the truth is revealed, I was like “That’s it? Really?” It was a bit of a letdown, to be honest. That doesn’t take too much away from how incredibly well crafted Andersen’s narrative is. The character of Karen, I would love to see again, in another book. I hope he finds a way to resurrect her for future stories. 

~ by generationgbooks on August 21, 2013.

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