A couple of months ago, prominent political pundits began buzzing about a provocative book by a Washington journalist.
The book — which raised questions about what congressional leaders should do if the president was mentally unstable and unfit for office — is not connected to President Donald Trump. It was published in 1965. But that hasn't done anything to dampen the chatter about it.
The novel, "Night of Camp David" by Fletcher Knebel, features an unhinged U.S. president who falls prey to his own paranoia and conspiratorial fantasies, as people around him struggle to rein in his worst impulses. Now, more than 50 years after it was released, it is getting a new life. Vintage Books is rereleasing the novel as a paperback, e-book and audiobook.
The publisher isn't shying away from drawing parallels between the novel and the current political climate. "It's got the perfect balance of escapism and that haunting touch of reality," said Anne Messitte, publisher of Vintage Books.
Messitte said she first became aware of the novel in early September, when Rachel Maddow spoke about it at length on MSNBC and noted the eerie similarities between the fictional plot and the biggest political story of the day: the anonymous Op-Ed in the New York Times by a Trump official, who wrote that members of the administration were working to undermine the president's agenda and had considered invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him.
"Dystopian thriller books and movies like that invite us as Americans to imagine what we might do with a presidency gone that haywire," Maddow said.
Interest in the novel soared. Presidential historian Michael Beschloss tweeted about it. In an interview with the New York Times, Bob Woodward mentioned he had recently reread it. Used copies on Amazon started selling at more than $100.
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, by the way, 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 premier that could damage our national security." Bizarrely, there's even a Supreme Court justice in the novel whose last name is Cavanaugh.
"Night of Camp David" fared well during its original release, spending 18 weeks on the bestseller list in hardcover. But it's anyone's guess how it will do now. Two nonfiction books about the Trump presidency — "Fear" by Woodward and "Fire and Fury" by Michael Wolff — have sold millions of copies. But as readers have been glued to the nonstop political news cycle, interest in presidential fiction seems to have flagged.
There has been a notable exception. "The President Is Missing," a novel about a fictional president that was written by Bill Clinton and James Patterson, has sold more than 1 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 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. 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.
Knebel's son, Jack Knebel, said that the family was gratified to see the book republished and that his father would likely be shocked to see how prescient his novel was.
"The parallels are quite striking between then and now," he said, "He'd say, 'Yeah, this is just what I was afraid of.' "