“O”: Who wrote this book?

Early reviews are tepid, but that hasn't kept politicos from puzzling over the identity of the anonymous author of "O."

Who wrote this book? The identity of "Anonymous" has become Washington's favorite guessing game.

The latest literary mystery swirling through Washington these days doesn’t concern the characters of a bestselling thriller. Instead, it concerns an author. Namely, who is he – or she?

“O, A Presidential Novel,” a fictional account of the upcoming 2012 presidential campaign starring none other than Barck Obama himself, will hit bookshelves next Tuesday. But publisher Simon & Schuster has kept the author of the book a secret, plunging much of Washington into a literary parlor game of sorts.

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Speculation as to the author’s identity has produced a few hints – Simon & Schuster identifies the author as someone who “has been in the room with
Barack Obama and wishes to remain anonymous.”

Based on the sneak peek CNN’s Political Unit received, “Whoever wrote the book is well-versed in the tactical minutia of presidential campaigns and the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of the press corps that covers them.”

One more hint: It’s not who you think it is. Last week, Ben Smith of Politico wrung denials from the usual suspects. Senior adviser David Axelrod, former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers, and former White House communications director, Anita Dunn, have all denied writing the book.

Though the publisher recently asked journalists and other would-be writers to decline to comment if asked if they wrote the book, lackluster reviews have spurred a torrent of denials.

“I didn’t write it,” said Joe Klein, to a New York Times reporter. “But if I had written it, I would be saying I didn’t write it,” continued the author of “Primary Colors,” the 1996 political novel that traced the presidential campaign of fictional president Jack Stanton (Bill Clinton). Klein had published the book anonymously but was eventually forced by the Washington Post to out himself.

“Sounds like ‘O’ is crap,” tweeted Jacob Weisberg, the editor in chief of the Slate Group, who also wrote “The Bush Tragedy.” “I didn’t write it after all.”

The 353-page novel starts in the spring of 2011 and follows an African-American president through a turbulent 2012 re-election campaign. Major characters include thinly-veiled replicas of White House insiders, including an overworked Avi Samuelson (David Axelrod), a flamboyant Bianca Stefani (Arianna Huffington), Maddy Cohen, a reporter for the uber-popular political blog “Body Politic” (Politico), as well as a number of GOP operatives.

As “O” nears its Tuesday release, speculation has hit a fevered pitch. Perhaps it was an Obama campaign insider? A former member of the White House staff? Or a consortium of political reporters? The guessing game is clearly one part of Simon & Schuster’s contrived marketing campaign that has whipped what appears to be an uninspired, unconvincing novel into the talk of the town in Washington – and now the guessing game extends far beyond the Beltway.

The Guardian ruled outRahm Emanuel (... a little busy running for mayor of Chicago), David Plouffe (has enough on his plate as Obama's new senior adviser) and the TV comedian Stephen Colbert (the book is not funny enough to have been by him).” USA Today voted for soon-to-depart press secretary Robert Gibbs or John McCain’s speechwriter Mark Salter. The Toronto Star suggested journalist George Stephanopoulos, journalist and former Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal, and Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau.

But Jack Cashill of the American Thinker blog is convinced he’s got the golden ticket.

“About 15 minutes of literary detective work leads me to a likely suspect,” he writes. “My suspect served as a diplomat with the US Department of State for 23 years, but left government employ a few years back in order to devote full-time to his writing. He has written three novels. His name is James Bruno.”
Simon & Schuster, of course, remains tight-lipped.

One more hint: “O” is dedicated, “For K and R,” and later, in the acknowledgements: “Finally, for their generous friendship, I want to thank K and R, to whom this book is affectionately dedicated.”

Who do you think the mystery author is?

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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