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A 1965 Novel About an Unhinged President Is Being Rereleased

Category: Art & Culture,Books

The novel centers on a young Iowa senator who grows worried about the president’s mental health when he is summoned to Camp David in the middle of the night. During deranged monologues, the president — a liberal Democrat named Mark Hollenbach — rants about his perceived political enemies and imaginary plots against him. He rails against the media and accuses a newspaper columnist of leading a “conspiracy” to discredit him. He tries to undo America’s longstanding alliances with Western Europe, and arranges “a high-level conference with the Soviet Premiere that could damage our national security,” according to The New York Times review. (Bizarrely, there’s even a Supreme Court justice in the novel whose last name is Cavanaugh.)

It’s unclear whether “Night of Camp David” will attract political junkies who have been obsessively following the real-life political melodrama unfolding daily in Washington. Two of this year’s biggest blockbusters — “Fear” by Bob Woodward and “Fire and Fury” by Michael Wolff — offered blistering insider accounts of the drama and dysfunction in the Trump White House, and have sold millions of copies. But as readers have been glued to the nonstop political news cycle, interest in fiction seems to have flagged, while nonfiction sales have surged.

There have been some notable exceptions. “The President is Missing,” a novel about a fictional president that was written by Bill Clinton and James Patterson, has sold more than a million copies. But other works of political fiction have fallen flat, perhaps because the genre has limited appeal at a moment when the headlines are often more dramatic than anything a screenwriter or novelist could dream up.

A handful of novelists have written fictional critiques of Trump, mostly with disappointing commercial results. Howard Jacobson published a satirical political allegory about a vain, vulgar prince that fell flat with critics and readers. (The Guardian said Jacobson “misses his punches.”) Last month, an anonymous author published a thriller titled “The Kingfisher Secret,” about an American tycoon who is about to become president of the United States, and has secret ties to the Russian government. Despite its ripped-from-the-headlines premise, or maybe because of it, “The Kingfisher Secret” was panned by some critics as a poor substitute for the actual news: “Admittedly, the confirmed and speculative details of the president’s malfeasant career are hard for fiction to match, but this plot doesn’t exert itself any more than Donald Trump lumbering around his golf course,” Ron Charles wrote in The Washington Post.

Last year, Jonathan Freedland, a columnist for The Guardian, published a novel under a pen name about a moody and impulsive American president who brings the country to the brink of nuclear war with North Korea and emboldens white supremacists by stoking racial fears. The novel, “To Kill a President,” which also wrestled with the question of how to remove an unfit president from office, was apparently too plausible for some: “Got a bit fed up with it about three-quarters through. A little bit too close to reality,” one reader wrote on Amazon.

Some felt similarly about “Night of Camp David” when it first came out. (A Times critic complained that it was too realistic, writing that “as a suspense novel it is probably a great deal too honest for its own good.”) But many readers were riveted: The book spent 18 weeks on the best-seller list in hardcover.

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