BOOK REVIEW

‘O' is a dishy take on the 2012 race, by ... somebody


Published: Sunday, January 30, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 2:01 p.m.

Well, now we know why the author of this much gossiped about, heav­ily marketed new book wanted to remain anonymous: “O: A Presidential Novel” is a thoroughly lackadaisical perfor­mance — trite, implausible and decidedly unfunny.

Although the novel's publisher has borrowed the marketing strategy of “Primary Colors,” “O” has none of that book's panache or satiric wit.

There has been plenty of online speculation that the author of “O” may be a political reporter, blogger or onetime member of President Barack Obama's staff, but while he or she clearly has a feel for what it's like to be on the campaign trail, much of what passes for inside knowledge in these pages would be known to anyone who's read a bunch of campaign accounts, subscribed to Mike Allen's Playbook or watched “Morning Joe.”

The novel — set during the 2012 campaign — wants us to think we're learning something about the real-life White House and the real-life mediasphere. But the characters who are meant to sound familiar — including a news-aggregating website's founder, who speaks in “heavily accented English,” and a rumpled White House adviser, charged with “protecting the president's brand” — are clumsily drawn cari­catures.

And while an executive at the book's publisher says, in an online note, that he hopes this book may “offer some resonant truths about what President Obama is really thinking,” the title character turns out to be a snarkily drawn cartoon, too: a conceited narcis­sist whose inner life consists of gripes about his opponents, frustration with his job, day­dreams about golf and self-con­gratulatory pats on his own back, combined with put-downs of the country at large.

Anonymous has President O thinking, “This is who he had always expected to be, this competent, cool, commanding leader who was always a step ahead of his rivals, a step ahead of the country, if truth be told.”

O's hypocrisy and arrogance, along with improbable plot developments, make it hard not to suspect that the author of this novel is a Republican sympathizer — or, at the very least, someone very disillusioned with Obama.

Somehow, there are no real divisions in the Republican Party in this 2012 — no widening schism between Tea Party supporters and the establishment, no bitter quarrels between its base and more centrist members.

The author of “O” is described on the book flap as someone who “has been in the room with Barack Obama,” but given this novel's many inane implausibili­ties, the reader can't help but think that the writer was either a lousy observer or that the room was really enormous — a hotel ballroom, perhaps, or maybe a convention center.

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