Robert Harris’s new thriller The Fear Index contains a wonky surprise. There’s a character named “Ezra Klein.” Ezra Klein—henceforth Real Ezra—is a Washington Post über-blogger, MSNBC contributor, and D.C. eminence. Now, he’s found his way into a novel by the man who created The Ghost Writer.
In The Fear Index, Fictional Ezra is an investor in the novel’s sinister hedge fund. “Klein had a reputation for being superbright,” Harris writes, “enhanced by his habit of talking at a rate of six words per second ... roughly twice as fast as normal human speech, and by the fact that every third word seemed to be an acronym or piece of financial jargon.”
So call Fictional Ezra a financial wonk. A really strange wonk. Harris has Klein “rocking back and forth like a student in a madrasa”; a character jokes he has “no wife, no kids, no sexual organs of any kind.” By email, Real Ezra calls his insertion into the book “totally random.” He says he doesn't recall ever meeting or interacting with Robert Harris.
Still, Klein comes off better than almost any D.C. journalist who has been kidnapped into literature. In Heartburn (1983), Nora Ephron skewered her ex-husband Carl Bernstein as a philandering D.C. writer named Mark Forman. In Little Green Men (1999), Christopher Buckley had a George F. Will clone abducted. Jeffrey Frank’s The Columnist (2001) included a character named “Lionel Heftihed” who bellowed like the New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier. Heftihed’s “angry words popped up in what seemed like dozens of small, smudgy magazines,” Frank wrote.
And then there was the unforgettable literary debut of Michael Crowley. In 2006, Crowley, who’s now at Time, wrote a New Republic piece about Michael Crichton’s global-warming crusade. In Crichton’s novel Next, published later that year, “Mick Crowley” was a child rapist. “Crowley’s penis was small,” Crichton wrote.
By mid-afternoon, Robert Harris had come forth to solve the mystery of the Ghost Blogger. “I'm ashamed to confess, as an insular Brit, I am not familiar with the real-life Ezra Klein, therefore no offence was intended,” Harris writes in an email. He adds, “Please feel free to contact him, and perhaps at the same time you could pass on my apologies...”
Considered them passed along. But Fictional Ezra figures to have another fictional life. An IMDB.com reader has already cast the Klein role in the movie.