NEWSWEEK: Why did you use the device of a fictional narrator? MORRIS: The narrator of "Dutch" is only semifictional. Indeed, for most of the later parts of the book, the narrator is me, and my observations of Ronald Reagan are direct and documented. All I have done in the way of fictionalizing myself (I never fictionalize him) is make myself Reagan's contemporary, in effect extending that closeness of observation--plus the same density of documentary detail--back to the earlier stages of his life, in order to render it as vividly and honestly as I do the presidency. And all I ask of the reader is simply to accept my presence as unquestioningly as we accept that of any truthful storyteller who acts as an intermediary between what he knows, and what we want to know in turn.
I think my method is an advance in biographical honesty because by giving the narrator flesh, as it were, I make the reader more aware of the fact that this narrator's opinions are not necessarily fair. They are as fallible and subject to change as that of any ordinary human being, as Reagan, in the course of a long life, becomes more and more extraordinary. His growth to world stature is so slow, yet so steady and inexorable, that the narrator is equally slow to recognize his greatness--but the realization, when it comes, is wholehearted and tinged, ultimately, with real affection.
Why did you not alert the reader, outside the book jacket? I don't like the word "alert." You mean I should alarm him, blow a cautionary whistle, say, "Proceed at your own risk"? Why shouldn't he just simply start reading the Prologue to "Dutch," and see if he can stop? If he does, either I have failed him as a writer, or RR has failed to hold him as a character. But if he (or more likely she, since most books are bought by women) falls into that pleasant state of absorption which is the ideal all writers strive to evoke, then total communication has been achieved.
I've never understood the patronizing neurosis among our print editors and our television producers that everything these days, whether it be a report from Chechnya or a new series on "Masterpiece Theatre," has to be announced, introduced, explained, "made easy," by some authoritative figure. Why can't an original approach be allowed to explain itself? What's to be afraid of in a story full of human incident and moral drama--a story that casts its own spell (I mean here the spell of Reagan's powerful personality, and the improbable variety of his many careers) from the moment I hand the president a leaf from the tree he used to sit under as a boy, to the moment, 670 pages later, when I return to that tree and bring the huge narrative to an end?
What do you really think of Ronald Reagan? I have gradually, over the course of many years, come to the conclusion that he was a great president. More interesting to me than greatness, however, is that he was throughout his life such a strange combination of innocence and wisdom, charm and hard force, gregariousness and aloofness, egocentricity without conceit, aggression without cruelty, imaginativeness and cultural ignorance, sentimentality and emotional coolness. I could go on for a quarter of an hour and not exhaust his contrary opposites. He is also--to finish with a simple statement--the bravest and most incorrupt figure I've ever studied.