Kurt Andersen, 57, was a co-founder of Spy magazine, an editor-at-large at Time and editor in chief of New York magazine and is the host of public radio's Studio 360. His third and latest novel, True Believers, is about an attorney who withdraws her name as a Supreme Court candidate and confesses to participation in a 1960s radical plot.
This is a novel about baby boomers, whom I have been dying to learn about. Why haven't we heard more about the baby boomers?
I know, I know. Fortunately, Karen in True Believers is somebody who understands the tyranny of her generation. And baby boomer is a big vessel. It always seemed that people born in the first seven years of it are different from the rest of us.
Do you feel you missed out on the boomer era because you missed the Summer of Love?
Totally. When I got to college in 1972, I felt that everything had just ended. A very few years made a difference then.
I can't relate to that, having grown up in the 1980s.
Yeah, you tell me the difference between 1983 and 1989, vs. going from the Kingston Trio to Jimi Hendrix in four years.
Had you read a lot of Ian Fleming novels, like Karen?
Not until I decided to write this book. Then I read half of them. I was a pretty big junior spy guy, however--The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, The Prisoner. I tried eavesdropping on my neighbors and buying miniature cameras.
I heard your nickname in high school was Explodo.
It was a family nickname at age 11 or 12, because I was a pyromaniac. I once took an interstate bus from Nebraska to Missouri just to buy fireworks.
Did that make you feel connected to Karen?
In an 11- or 12-year-old way, sure. I never made the transition to becoming a fight-the-power radical, because I was a wussy and because I was born after her. The big '60s radicals were born in the '40s or late '30s.
Were you thinking of any real-life people for Karen?
No. People have said, "Oh, she's like Bernardine Dohrn." But Karen isn't one of these supercommitted, lifelong-radical fugitives. I realized the thing to say is that she's Hillary Clinton if she'd never married Bill. But there are two friends who reminded me of Karen's spunk in her middle and later years: Nora Ephron and Susanna Moore.
Some reviewers make a big deal of the fact that your main character is a woman.
I was talking to Lionel Shriver, who just published a first-person novel from a man's perspective, and she gets it too. I chose a woman because the changes in women's lives during the '60s were more significant than in men's. Because Karen wasn't vulnerable to the draft, it seemed more interesting for her to become a radical. "I'm just a girly bystander, so I need to prove I'm tough."
If you were to write a memoir, what would you confess to?