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The Daily Need

What ‘O’ is and isn’t good for

The problem with “O,” a new piece of political speculative fiction that comes out next Tuesday, is that the novel is much less interesting than reality. The redeeming thing (at least for many bloggers) is that the novel, the existence of which is part of said interesting political reality, was written by an anonymous author — and that’s interesting.

“O” begins a few months from now and follows the 2012 presidential campaign in which a black Democratic (smoker) president, referred to as O (clever, clever), runs against a Republican who is determined to run a fair and respectable campaign.

Nothing like the circus that will probably actually ensue.

The Washington Post’s Ron Charles writes:

Dramatically, ‘O’ suffers from its concentration on a pair of candidates determined to be civil and restrained. That would be nice for our country, but it’s damning for a novel. The author seems incapable of competing with the outlandish real-life characters who have blessed and cursed American political life. Sarah Palin, ‘flaunting that whole lusty librarian thing,’ has decided not to run. ‘But I’m not going away,’ she says in a brief, barely parodic appearance. ‘I’ll be keepin’ an eye on our candidates.’

The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington brings his review to a similar conclusion:

Obama is too controlled to provide a juicy read, and besides, he has already written the best account of his own life in ‘Dreams From My Father.’ But in today’s grim publishing environment, where book houses have to shout to be heard, ‘O’ is a work of marketing genius.


Because of the lackluster reviews, discussion surrounding the novel has focused on the identity of its anonymous author. Publisher Simon & Schuster revealed only that the writer was familiar with the political scene and “has been in the room with Barack Obama.” This, Washington Post reviewer Ron Charles points out, “means we can rule out Kim Jong Il, but just about everybody else is still fair game.”

Politico blogger Ben Smith asked some of the usual suspects, none of whom, of course, publicly claimed authorship.

It seems unlikely that the mystery author’s identity will be revealed anytime soon. And whether it ever does seems besides the point, since American politics are actually much, much stranger than fiction.

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