Authors: True Believers
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Also by Kurt Andersen
Turn of the Century
The Real Thing
This is an uncorrected ebook file. Please do not quote for publication until you check your copy against the finished book.
is a work of fiction. Apart from the well-known actual people, events, and locales that figure in the narrative, all names, characters, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 by Bedoozled, Inc.
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Published in the United States by Random House, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
RANDOM HOUSE and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
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Andersen, Kurt, [date]
True believers: a novel / Kurt Andersen.
eBook ISBN 978-1-58836-686-3
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For Kristi, David, and Erika
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!—Oh! times,
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!
—WILLIAM WORDSWORTH, “The French Revolution as It Appeared to Enthusiasts at Its Commencement”
I dreamed I was born, and grew up … and this dream goes on and on and on, and sometimes seems so real that I almost believe it is real. I wonder if it is?
—MARK TWAIN, a letter to his sister-in-law
I shouted out, “Who killed the Kennedys?”
When after all, it was you and me.
—MICK JAGGER, “Sympathy for the Devil”
My publishers signed me up a year ago to write a book, but not
book. “A candid and inspirational memoir by one of the most accomplished leaders and thinkers of our times,” their press release promised. They think they’re getting a slightly irreverent fleshing out of my shiny curriculum vitae, a plainspoken, self-congratulatory chronicle of A Worthy Life in the Law and the Modern Triumph of American Women, which they’re publishing, ho-hum premise notwithstanding, because I’ve written a couple of best sellers and appear on TV a lot.
By far the most interesting thing about my life, however, is nowhere in my résumé or official bio or Wikipedia entry. I’m not exactly who the world believes I am. Let me cut to the chase: I once set out to commit a spectacular murder, and people died.
But it’s not a simple story. It needs to be unpacked very carefully. Like a bomb.
Trust me, okay?
I am reliable. I am an oldest child. Highly imperfect, by no stretch a goody-goody. But I was a reliable U.S. Supreme Court clerk and then a reliable Legal Aid lawyer, representing with all the verve and cunning I could muster some of the most pathetically, tragically unreliable people on earth. I have been a reliable partner in America’s nineteenth largest law firm, a reliable author of four books, a reliable law professor, a reliable U.S. Justice Department official, a reliable law school dean. I’ve been a reliable parent—as trustworthy a servant, teacher, patron, defender, and worshipper of my children as anyone could reasonably demand, and I think on any given day at least one of the two of them would agree.
I was not an entirely reliable wife for the last decade of my marriage, although my late ex, during our final public fight, called me “reliable to a goddamned
” which is probably true. And which may be why the surprising things I did immediately afterward—grabbing his BlackBerry out of his hand and hurling it into a busy New York street, filing for divorce, giving up my law firm partnership, accepting a job that paid a fifth as much, moving three thousand miles away—made him more besotted by me than he’d ever seemed before. As my friend Alex said at the time, “That’s funny—telling Jack ‘Fuck
’ finally made him really want to
I am reliable, but I’m not making the case that reliability is the great human virtue. Nor am I even making the case that reliability is
great virtue. In fact, after four decades in the law, I’ve lost my animal drive for making cases for the sake of making cases, for strictly arguing one of two incompatible versions of the truth, for telling persuasive stories by omitting or twisting certain facts.
So I am not arguing a case here. I’m not setting out to defend myself any more than I am to indict myself. I’m determined to tell something like the whole truth—which, by the way, I don’t believe has ever been done in any American court of law. To tell the whole truth in a legal case would require a discovery process and trial that lasted years, hundreds of witnesses each testifying for many weeks apiece, and rules of evidence rewritten to permit not just hearsay and improperly obtained information but iffy memories of certain noises and aromas and hallucinatory hunches, what a certain half-smile or drag on a cigarette decades ago did or didn’t signify during some breathless three
In any event, for the purposes of this book, I am extremely reliable. I have files. Since long before I went to law school, for half a century now—
half a century!
—I’ve saved every diary and journal, every letter I ever received, catechism worksheets, term papers, restaurant receipts, train schedules, ticket stubs, snapshots,
s. At the beginning, my pack-ratting impulse was curatorial, as if I were director of the Karen Hollaender Museum and Archive. I know that sounds narcissistic, but when I was a kid, it seemed like a way to give the future me a means of knowing what the past and perpetually present me was actually like. Prophylactic forensics, you could say.
My memory has always been excellent, but the reason I’m telling my story now is also about maximizing reliability: I’m old enough to forgo the self-protective fibs and lies but still young enough to get the memoir nailed down before the memories begin disintegrating.
Only one in a hundred people my age suffer dementia, and the Googled Internet is like a prosthetic cerebral cortex and hippocampus, letting us subcontract sharpness and outsource memory. But after sixty-five?
the incidence of neurodegenerative disease increases tenfold during that decade, and it’s worse for women. I turn sixty-five next May.
So, anyhow, here’s my point: I am a reliable narrator. Unusually reliable. Trust me.
Starting in fifth grade, I thought of myself as a beatnik. I first heard about beatniks from my father in the spring of 1959. He was a social psychologist who earned his living doing market research. He’d just come home from a convention in San Francisco and was telling us about a study that a psychiatrist had presented—well, telling my mother, really, since my brother and sister were only three and seven. But I was almost ten, fascinated by what Dad was saying and eager to distinguish myself from the little kids. This psychiatrist had spent a hundred nights studying beatniks in the beatnik neighborhoods of San Francisco, attending all-night parties in their “pads,” and administering personality tests, my father said, “to a full quarter of the tribe.”