THIS COMMENTARY CONTAINS SPOILERS GALORE! BE FOREWARNED!
King's book, 11-23-63
, was released the other day. I finally had a chance to peruse it this evening.
1. Let's give King kudos for his understanding that saving JFK is not really the answer to our dreams. King is fairly convinced that JFK was, in actual fact, an ineffective president, who, if re-elected, would not accomplish what LBJ did with respect to Medicare, civil rights and anti-poverty programs. I won't speak for King about LBJ, but I have long concluded that LBJ skillfully used JFK's martyrdom, in addition to LBJ's own legendary legislative prowess ("I've got his pecker in my pocket") to get those laws passed.
2. In later alternative years, Stephen King's story is a bit nuclear bomb happy in its assumptions. However, there is some reason to believe King's choice to succeed JFK in 1969 could have happened, though that fella would likely have changed political parties first.
3. I like the way King messes with timelines and his book shows he clearly understands the butterfly effect
. However, since King's book is nearly 850 pages, I wish he would have edited down some of the gooey, little folks story of love and loss, and given more space to the Twilight Zone sensibility that drives the ending. Still, who am I to give such advice to an author who sells more books than Hewlett-Packard sells personal computers?
4. Notwithstanding the above, King's research struck me as limited on the subject of the JFK assassination. It's like he wanted to believe Oswald acted alone so his character wouldn't have to worry about more powerful forces like the Mob or renegades from the anti-Castro movement. King lists his main sources on the subject of the assassination at the end of the book, but he fails to identify the granddaddy anti-Warren Report writer of them all: Harold Weisberg
. That is a strange omission.
At page 845 of his book, King says that no reasonable person can deny Oswald acted alone. Sorry, Steve. Ask some still living people such as Dan Moldea
, David Kaiser
and G. Robert Blakey
, former chief counsel for the House Assassinations Committee, and now a professor of law at Notre Dame Law School. They can tell you all about the Mob and the murder of JFK. Oswald was at best a patsy. And for those who think conspiracies are something that have to be rare, let's understand the legal definition of "conspiracy" is "two or more people engaged in an illegal act." In other words, conspiracies at some level happen every day, as any District Attorney can tell you.
5. From what I can see so far, though, King is in far better control of his material than Philip Roth was in his Lindbergh alternative history
. Roth's book was weak for a few reasons, including: (1) Lindbergh was not going to run for president in 1940 as he hated politics as a vocation. His Dad, a former socialist oriented congressman, was hounded out of politics and he never forgot that; (2) Lindbergh was as much against financiers, despite his marrying into reactionary wealth, as against "Jews" (though even his degree of anti-Semitism was overstated by his critics) and (3) the ending to Roth's book, which consisted of trying to put back the regular time line and having Lindbergh go missing, was so weak as to be pathetic.
Overall, King's book strikes me as a better read than Roth's. His book seems almost jaunty in its prose. The story, in fact, seems more like "Back to the Future"
, a wonderful film in my not so humble opinion. There is also a Forrest Gumpian
sensibility of nostalgia for the late 1950s and early 1960s America, which I admit makes me wince, as it over-glorifies the military warrior while denigrating the domestic dissenter.
In other words, the book is a winner for most of us Baby Boomers. The question will be how the younger age group--the group which grew up on wizards and vampires--sees it. I think the differences between King's novel and my "saving RFK"
novel, which is supposed to be re-released by iBooks any day now, is that my novel is all about the alternative history. It is also not a love story, but an amalgamation of fiction and non-fiction that tackles public policy, history and culture.
: King proves what I had told my Dad as I began "A Disturbance of Fate." He asked, "Isn't it better to save JFK, since he was already president?" I replied, "Dad, saving Bobby is the way to go. Saving JFK does nothing for civil rights and the poor, and JFK stays on in Vietnam, no matter what Arthur Schlesinger thinks..." Whether King agrees with me that 1968 was the real
focal point year, and that Bobby was the real
force for positive change that year, is a whole other question...:-)
ADDENDUM 11/13/11: I meant to note something else of a literary matter: The alias name of the time traveler in the book is George T. Amberson. The name is from "The Magnificent Ambersons" by the great, but now mostly forgotten Booth Tarkington. The lead character's name in Tarkington's novel is George Amberson Minafer (his mother was an Amberson who married a guy named Minafer). So why the T. added? Because of Tarkington, I suppose. And where was Stephen King born? Per Wikipedia, King was born in Maine, but his father was born in Indiana. And who was born in and associated with Indiana, and most of whose books take place in Indiana? Tarkington. King has long been a careful reader of literature, and may well be a fan of Tarkington, as I am. I know King has had nice words for the most underrated writer of the late 20th Century, William Kotzwinkle, which again is interesting from an "inside baseball" (well, literature) perspective.