It has been said that everyone of a certain age remembers where they were when they heard about the assassination of President Kennedy. (I don’t, but then I was only seven months old.) Like the World Trade Centre attacks on 9/11, Kennedy’s murder has become one of the great landmark moments in history: the slaying of an iconic President that spawned thousands of different conspiracy theories, and possibly marked the passing of an age of American innocence. Many of those conspiracy theories also feature the equally iconic actress Marilyn Monroe who was believed to have had a long running affair with the President, and whose suicide in 1962, when at the peak of her fame, rocked the world.
Mark Lawson’s novel conjures an alternative history in which both of them survived. Marilyn Monroe recovers from her drug overdose and goes on to resume her career, though perhaps with some ill-chosen film ventures, while President Kennedy’s life is saved following almost miraculous medical treatment at Parkland Memorial Hospital, and he recovers to resume his Presidency and secure re-election the following year on a wave of sympathy. In November 1993, as the thirtieth year of the attempted assassination nears, the former President prepares for a thanksgiving ceremony in Boston to celebrate his escape.
The speculative nature of the novel is deftly handled, Lawson has obviously done huge amounts of research, not just into the events in Dallas in November 1963 but also into the political careers of his successors. Lyndon B Johnson suffers more than most in this alternative history, having to watch Kennedy secure a landslide re-election, and then seeing Nixon elected in 1968. On the other hand, the opprobrium generally heaped on him over America’s engagement in Vietnam is now directed at Kennedy himself, who loses the effect of canonisation bestowed by the assassination ion the real world.
Lawson crams his story with passing allusions to political events throughout the thirty years following the Dallas shooting – I spotted a lot but am convinced I missed just as many. I particularly liked Michael Dukakis’s appearance as an enthusiastic beat policeman in Boston, with no hint of his real world exploits as Presidential candidate.
The novel is not only very clever but also exceptionally funny. In Lawson’s 1993 America is governed by President Sanders, an independent multi-millionaire from Seattle whose late emergence as a candidate took the 1992 election campaign by storm. Sanders is a marvellous creation, full of homespun half-baked philosophy and bizarre personal beliefs – his aides are constantly alert to try to prevent the President from pressing the metaphorical self-destruct button.
There are so many different strands to this novel: satirical observations about the nature of elections in a media-led political world, the rapacious desire of the press to turn up salacious stories, the nature of celebrity, and the toll exacted by high office. What moist surprised me was that this was Lawson’s first novel – it is excellently plotted and marvellously written, with an almost Dickensian juxtaposition of the hilarious and the tragic.
Idlewild Hardcover – 23 June 1995
In this novel America's two dead icons, JFK and MM, are alive and being kicked in an America not entirely like our own. Among others we meet a heroic and legendary Teddy Kennedy, a Boston traffic cop called Michael Dukakis, journalists, conspiracy theorists, actresses and hangers-on.
- Publisher : Picador (23 June 1995)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 256 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0330341111
- ISBN-13 : 978-0330341110
- Dimensions : 13.5 x 3 x 21.6 cm
- Customer reviews:
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A marvellous alternative history: simultaneously scurrilous, entertaining and poignant.Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 16 August 2016
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Hardback in excellent condition. Pleased with purchaseReviewed in the United Kingdom on 20 March 2016
Book arrived promptly with no problems. Hardback in excellent condition. Pleased with purchase.
Really enjoyed itReviewed in the United Kingdom on 3 January 2014
Not my usual cup of tea but based on an article in a paper I picked it up and gave it as go.