A slight change in the trajectory of a bullet causes Kennedy to survive–creating enormous historical ramifications.
This experimental political novel consists of entwined narratives, each compelling, which make readers complicit participants in their interplay. One is the draft of a definitive biography of John F. Kennedy by a female author named Trish, the other the perspective of the draft’s reader, his daughter Caroline, as she reminisces on the text at the behest of its author. Dialogue between these women mirrors the reader’s reactions, anticipating doubts and sparking reflection, which injects the novel with an uncanny self-awareness. The biography within the novel deviates from history, with Kennedy’s recuperation from the assassination attempt and subsequent mission to mend what he perceives as the destructive course of American and global politics. He converts a surge of public sympathy into political capital of unprecedented popularity. This arms him to take on conventional, ossified politics, interest groups, military aggression and energy dependence. He seeks to eradicate root causes in the great challenges facing him: the Cold War, Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War and Civil Rights Movement. The president is also depicted interacting with several historical figures: Fidel Castro, Khrushchev, Lyndon B. Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., even the Beatles. Golden renders all with impressively credible dialogue and, in the case of political figures, oratory. The fictitious biography focuses on the relationship between Kennedy men Jack and Bobby, and their complex and troubled relationship with their father Joseph. Caroline’s reveries also provide insight into family dynamics, influenced by the strains of public life. This is a thought-provoking portrait of a family at the center of American power, acutely aware of its legacy for future generations. Although methodical, loosely following the template of history, this alternate world holds many surprises. Whether or not readers find Kennedy’s almost-superhuman statesmanship believable will correlate somewhat with their personal politics–oblique references to contemporary politics abound, however subtle. The book’s optimism, only slightly tempered by tragedy and realistic cynicism, will not appeal to all, but Golden’s skill at realistically transporting political rhetoric and historical personalities through the prism of imagination makes the book a compelling account of what the president might have become.
A stimulating, fun play on revisionist history.