Stosny (Henry-Henry, Shadows & Light, 2016, etc.) offers a story about an author’s connections to the past and President John F. Kennedy.
The protagonist of this jumpy novel is a white man, George, who falls in love with and marries an African-American woman, Madeline, in the late 1950s. One day, while driving, George explains to Madeline why he loves her, and, due to his distraction, the two crash into a Budweiser truck. The accident tragically leaves Madeline in a wheelchair for the rest of her life, and they wind up receiving a tidy legal settlement from the beer company. Afterward, George refuses to get a full-time job, although he remains dutiful to his wife. With the settlement money, he’s free to pursue his personal obsession: an ever expanding novel called Primordial Swamps. When Madeline advises him to make the book shorter, he says, “The story can’t be cut, it’s about everything.” As he works on his novel, he also becomes fixated on President Kennedy and his assassination. The book bounces between various time periods, including 1963 and 2033, encompassing George’s novel, George’s reality, and the tale of a curious doctor in 1963 who would like to see the 35th president killed. The story moves and changes quickly, and, as such, its ideas come at a rapid pace. For example, iron lungs, the Cuban missile crisis, and Kennedy’s infidelities are all considered in quick succession, giving readers digestible tidbits of history without ever exhausting their attention and interest. The book also offers this slim but potent observation on first lady Jacqueline Kennedy: “She brought elegance to a country in need of fantasy.” Some of the more fictionalized material doesn’t always flow as smoothly; George’s immediate family is strange but not very memorable, and when his relations meet unfortunate endings, one may be more likely to shrug than to gasp. The story is much more engaging, however, when focused on the protagonist himself and his odd struggles, which provide a unique view on events of the past.
A rollicking, if occasionally foggy, adventure through time and memory.