Having a narrator who jumps in time from past to present can sometimes present a challenge to even the most comprehensive reader if the author isn’t up to the task. In True Believers, Kurt Andersen takes his reader to the 1960s and back with each progressive chapter in a fluid page turn that kept me compelled to keep on reading long past my bedtime because I wanted to see the progression of 1960s idealistic to radical Karen and present day almost Supreme Court nominee Karen. Andersen had me emotionally invested in both Karens in a way I wouldn’t have expected.
1960s Karen starts out as the upper middle class midwestern Catholic girl who is a great student, with her “quirk” being a love of James Bond novels and acting out Bond-style missions with her two best friends Alex and Chuck. The reader experiences Karen’s awakening sexually and politically, and follows along with her and her radicalization in her hometown, to hyper-radicalization as she becomes a Radcliffe college freshman, while Alex and Chuck follow the same path of radicalization to Harvard along with her. Or do they?
This story plays out as a window into the 60s, and a mystery of counter-intel-pro as present day Karen writes her memoirs and comes to grips with what Radcliffe Karen did with Alex and Chuck. She plans to write a tell-all book and works to put the missing pieces together.
I won’t tell you any more, lest I lead you to jump to some conclusions that might spoil the story. I’ll just say at the end of the day, I really enjoyed the book. That’s not to say it was perfect – It is long and there were certainly times that I was wishing Andersen would just get on with it already, and the sub-plot of Karen’s radical granddaughter seemed a little unnecessary for my taste, but it was both an enjoyable and informative piece of historical fiction. And if I taken nothing else from the book, while I may have known (or at least heard it before), I will now never forget that Jimi Hendrix was an opening act for the Monkees!