Who Wrote 'O'?

Photo: Who Wrote O? New Presidential Novels Author is a MysteryPlayCourtesy Amazon.com
WATCH 1/20/2009: Barack Obama Inaugurated

This much is known: A new book, "O: A Presidential Novel," will be released Jan. 25. The 368-page novel will sell for $25.99 a copy ($16.97 on pre-order).

What is unkown? The book's content and its author.

Simon and Schuster, the publisher, said on its website that the novel is "written by an anonymous author who has spent years observing politics and the fraught relationship between public image and self-regard."

The novel includes revealing and insightful portraits of many prominent figures in the political world — some invented and some real.

According to news reports, the novel comes from someone with "vast personal experience" who wrote the novel about what President Obama needs to do to win re-election -- a roman á clef.

That is a "novel in which real persons or actual events figure under disguise," according to Webster's.

But whose real life the novel describes is the subject of much debate.

Washington loves secrets, whether it's a long-held, well-kept secret like the identity of Deep Throat or a good conspiracy theory. Dan Brown ("The Da Vinci Code") tried his hand at Washington secrets with "The Lost Symbol" in 2009.

A secretive novel about a sitting president immediately draws comparisons to "Primary Colors," the 1996 novel based loosely on Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. That book was wirtten by someone called "Anonymous," and featured a Southern governor whose presidential bid was affected by allegations of an affair. The similarities to Bill Clinton, his wife, Hillary, and several of his aides were clear.

"Anonymous" turned out to be veteran Washington journalist Joe Klein, who has denied that he wrote "O: A Presidential Novel. " But he also denied having written "Primary Colors."

"'Primary Colors' was not an anonymous memoir; it was a great marketing strategy," said Michael Maslansky, a communications expert who advises corporations on branding. "And while it did so, the main reason was that it dimensionalized much of what we already thought we knew about Clinton but didn't have the details about."

And it is that same sort of marketing strategy that could benefit "O."

"By not disclosing the author, there can be more speculation about what will be revealed. More buzz. More sales. And no debate about whether the author has the right to write this book," he said, although he predicted the book's ultimate importance will rely on who actually wrote it.

"We can be sure that we will find out who wrote it and the impact of the book will be more the result of who wrote it and what it says than the fact that it is being released anonymously," said Maslansky.

Is there more going on?

"The author is clearly making a reference to the erotic novel, 'The Story of O,' promising the potential book buyer that it will be just as salacious," said Dr. Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist and author.

'The Story of O' was published under a pen name.

"And readers cannot help but wonder how much is real. It's very clever marketing and likely to occupy our attention," she said.

The book's release date also happens to fall on the same day as President Obama's State of the Union Address. Could this overlap be coincidental? Or was it intentional? Somewhere out there, some author is counting on people to get impatient for Jan. 25.