YEAR OF THE GUN by Michael Mewshaw


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The ""year of the gun"" is 1977-78 in Rome--where apolitical US journalist David Rayborne, working for a rag called the American News, gets an idea for exploiting the media exaggerations about Italian terrorism: he'll write a fake non-fiction book about how he has infiltrated a Red Brigade cell, talking at length to the guerrillas. But, while David is working on this hoax-manuscript, including imaginary terrorist discussions about a plan to kidnap Aldo Moro, two of his acquaintances are actually getting involved with the Red Brigades. His chum Bianchi, a rich left-wing professor, is a half-reluctant minor operative for the terrorists. And David's new bedmate, intense photo-journalist Alison Lopez, is determined to make genuine contact with the Brigades. So things get dangerous when Alison finds David's manuscript and believes that it's factual; she shares this news with Bianchi, who passes it on to his terrorist boss. Soon the Red Brigades believe that David really has infiltrated a cell, that he knows about the actual plan to kidnap Moro. And, since David's manuscript playfully (implausibly) uses the names of his real-life friends (including his boss and his true love), they too are in peril--with several murders ensuing before David flees Rome, sadder and wiser. (""Much as he'd like to lay it off on Alison and her ambition, or Bianchi and his duplicity, or that psychopath in the park, David realized he was the one to blame."") Mewshaw has a decent handful of themes here: the shaky fact/fiction demarcation, the dangers of an apolitical stance, conflicting loyalties. There's great potential for irony and serio-comic impact. Unfortunately, however, though loudly modeling his novel on similar ones by Graham Greene, Mewshaw--a fundamentally humorless, flatly earnest writer--never finds the right tone to go along with his clever yet highly contrived premise. David is unappealing, his soul-journey an unconvincing one. And, very slow to move into gear, this novel is a less involving exploration of innocents caught up in terrorism than, most recently, John Broderick's A Prayer for Fair Weather (1983, p. 1215). Still, thanks to the intriguing basic concept and some solid Rome background: a distinct improvement over Mewshaw's last fiction, Land Without Shadow (1979).

Pub Date: April 30th, 1984
ISBN: 0743222350
Publisher: Atheneum