TOPICS > Politics

Primary Colors – Anonymous?

February 5, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: The novel Primary Colors is a best seller and the center of much conversation, most particularly here in Washington, and tonight, right now with us is Roger Rosenblatt. Roger, what have we got here, a gigantic literary story, or a gigantic marketing story?

ROGER ROSENBLATT: Well, we certainly have a marketing story. The idea of anybody being anonymous is so tantalizing in this, in this time when most people will identify everything that they possibly can that that alone has, has pushed that book into best-seller-dom, but it’s not a bad book. It’s a good book. It’s not quite as good as people have been saying it was, in my judgment, but then again, it’s not as bad as I think they expected it to be.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. But you don’t–do you think it would be as successful if it said by Sammy Sue Dunn, or whoever it was who actually wrote the thing, or is the anonymous crucial to its success?

ROGER ROSENBLATT: I think the idea of something being anonymous is absolutely crucial. For one thing, I don’t know how–I don’t know how the book is selling, but I also don’t know how the book is playing in other parts of the country, but for the Northeast, as you and I know, nothing is so tantalizing to journalists as some answer they can’t get. If you want to appeal to political journalists, in particular, do one of two things: You write a book saying that we’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing, or you hide something from us, and this book hid something.

JIM LEHRER: Well, another theory, and all the conversations I had this weekend, Roger, were one of the reasons it has such appeal too is that it’s excruciatingly close to either the reality of say the Clinton campaign in 1992 or the imagined reality of the 1992, but you feel like you’re reading somebody’s diary as much as you’re reading a novel. Of course, that’s the magic of a good fiction too.

ROGER ROSENBLATT: Exactly. I mean, I’m sure that cuts both ways. On the one hand, the speculation has been that it had to be an insider, although if it’s an insider, it’s an insider who knows how to write a novel. As you know as a novelist, it’s not easy to structure a novel, and this novel is structured very well. But the other thing is this could be a product of a very keen observant mind, a good literary imagination. Shakespeare never traveled outside of England, wrote about Italy.

The idea that a good fiction writer couldn’t imagine a lot of this stuff really doesn’t wash. I think that a lot of the good things of this book, and there are some wonderful things in this book, are the product of somebody who simply knows how to write a book.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. I mean, you, there’s no question in your mind that a novelist had something to do with this novelist?

ROGER ROSENBLATT: Oh, no, no. A novelist wrote this novel. The use of dialogue, the pace, and there are, as I say, it reads–it’s not a great novel–Ulysses it ain’t–but it’s got some wonderful stylistic flourishes and some quite moving passages. It’s a good book.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Do you think we’ll ever know who “Anonymous” is?

ROGER ROSENBLATT: Well, I guess like you, I read it with the idea of, of finding it out, and I did have an idea of whom it might be.


ROGER ROSENBLATT: Lisa Grunwald, Mandy Grunwald’s sister. She’s a very good novelist, has written two novels already, is working on a third, and there are name references, such as the name–

JIM LEHRER: Explain. Mandy Grunwald is a–is one of the Clinton campaign’s political advisers, makes–during the ’92 campaign at least made a lot of commercials, et cetera, was one of the inner circle types.

ROGER ROSENBLATT: Yes. She is, indeed, and she knows a great deal about Washington, has a very keen mind, herself, and Lisa and Mandy are very close. The name Adler appears in the book. Adler is Lisa’s married name. There are references to the upper West side of New York, where she lives. She knows New York. She knows Washington.

She knows Martha’s Vineyard, and in fact, it was a passage about learning to swim, i.e., Henry, who happens to be Lisa’s father’s name as well, Henry learning to swim, being taught to swim in Martha’s Vineyard in the ocean, that made me think it might be she, because it’s really quite a beautiful passage, and it, it has to be written by someone who loved the moment–I believe wholeheartedly the moment was true–loved Martha’s Vineyard, and had a way of translating this into beautiful prose.

JIM LEHRER: Well, we will see–maybe we will see someday how right you are or how wrong you are, Roger.

ROGER ROSENBLATT: Thank you very much.

JIM LEHRER: A pleasure.