From the Grassy Knoll

Cambria, Calif.

I will venture a guess that Charles Taylor’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” a review of 11/22/63 [Jan. 9/16], marks the only time a novel by Stephen King has been reviewed in The Nation. One assumes this is because King has written a novel that affirms the official version of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a narrative with which your journal concurs.

Do I need to read King’s opus to see if his intrepid time-traveling protagonist—who targets Oswald for pre-emptive elimination but shadows him for five years to make sure he was acting alone—tags along on Oswald’s job interviews? Does the author let us listen in to find out how the ostensible Soviet defector and Castro-loving commie was welcomed back to America instead of prosecuted for treason and immediately obtained employment with a Dallas firm doing classified work for the Army map service? And then with a New Orleans firm owned by a CIA asset? Does the reader get to meet all the anti-Castro militants who were Oswald’s surprising associates in New Orleans? I’m guessing no.

Taylor and King instead take a path well worn over five decades, switching from an interrogation of history to dime-store psychology, asserting that those who don’t believe the Warren report and dutifully ignore the mountain of evidence that Oswald was far from alone are just displaying their craving for order and meaning, which is blocking their ability to accept “Oswald’s puniness” and that a nonentity was “capable of scarring a nation” all by himself. Small wonder that when it comes to explaining the arresting contrast between the alleged “glory he was seeking in killing JFK” and Oswald’s actual statement on the subject (“I’m just a patsy”), novelist and reviewer (and The Nation) are silent.




Taylor Replies

Telex begins

…first made contact with Stephen King in the spring of 2005 through mutual acquaintances in the Fair Play for Dean Koontz Committee. This rogue fringe of the National Book Critics Circle had become a gathering place for all sorts of literary regressives, including the most radical faction, those who admit to never being able to finish a Bolaño novel.

It was revealed to me that King (code name: Spooky Tooth) was working on an opus that, through stealth tactics like readability and narrative, would produce a novel to seal in the public imagination the myth of Oswald as the lone gunman. It was a dicey proposition, all other endeavors in this vein having come to naught. (Those of us involved were haunted by the specter of James Michener’s novel arguing that Jimmy Carter was in reality a Soviet mole named Tchecky. It never made it past proofs.) We hoped King’s name would guarantee sales and thus spread our planned counternarrative. But we agreed we needed to reach two other audiences, the ones who’d never pick up a Stephen King novel and the lefties.

It was at this time we reached out to Katrina vanden Heuvel. It was a closely guarded secret that as a little girl she had been dandled on the knee of her godfather, Earl Warren, and had made him a deathbed promise never to refer to him in public by his nickname, Justice Cuddles. It was decided that a review in The Nation, an unexpected venue for praising King, would accomplish our goal. I was given the assignment and provided with a cover as a left littérateur. A one-bedroom in Park Slope was furnished in used Ikea and stocked with worn copies of Granta, The Wretched of the Earth and the novels of Jonathan Lethem. In reality, I was conducting my work from a basement in Jersey City where, to study the enemy, I watched Oliver Stone movies and listened to old Mort Sahl records for days on end. During one grueling two-week period in July, I was drilled in methods of selling the magic-bullet theory.

As I conducted my counternarrative, studying King’s proofs and building links to his past work, it was decided that in order that it not get lost in the spate of initial reviews, my piece would run at a time when vulnerable Americans were looking to spend holiday gift cards. Finally the work was accomplished, the publication date set. I was sent to recuperate at the Gerald Ford Desert Golf Clinic.

That all our hard work and careful stealth is now in danger of being ferreted out by Mr. Christie’s shrewd surmise is devastating. We will need to regroup to find a way to counter his assertions. We may continue in late February in [deleted by The Nation], where I will travel under the name…

Telex ends



Democracy Is Coming to Town…

North Branford, Conn.

I liked Melissa Harris-Perry’s comparison of a belief in Santa Claus with a belief in our democracy [“Sister Citizen,” Jan. 9/16]. As a postal worker, I’ve always enjoyed that scene in Miracle on 34th Street when postal workers carry sacks of mail into the courtroom, saving Santa. More than sixty years later, we’re still delivering his mail.

If the movie were remade today, Santa would most likely be downsizing his elves, shrinking the number of neighborhoods he’d serve and making deliveries every other year. Sadly, it would mirror the frayed and tattered belief many hold about the state of our democracy. For those who still want to believe in a better tomorrow, the joining together last fall of the Occupy and labor movements was an encouraging sign. I hope this relationship will develop further in the new year, and that more Americans will be able to believe that our democracy can work for them once again. Happy New Year!




Phenotype in the Pea Patch

Oxford, Ohio

In his otherwise meticulous description of an episode of scientific misconduct and its historical context, Charles Gross [“Disgrace,” Jan. 9/16] writes that when Gregor Mendel crossed hybrid peas he predicted and found that among offspring “exactly one-third were pure dominants and two-thirds were hybrids.” Mendel actually found that one-fourth would have the phenotype (appearance) of one grandparent and three-fourths the appearance of the other grandparent. My first-year biology students know this, and I surmise that
Dr. Gross knows this as well. I trust the rest of his essay was free of sloppy errors.




Acclaim Sudoku Frenzy Without You, I Hear

Tallahassee, Fla.

Ever since Newsweek evolved into “Snoozeweek,” my wife and I have looked for a weekly magazine that would not insult our intelligence. We found The Nation and have enjoyed it consistently, but… the frosting on the cake is the series of crossword puzzles created by the great team of Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto. Their puzzle number 3221 [Jan. 9/16] is what causes me to write to you. The cleverness of including eight anagrams for the same word (granite) in a single puzzle was worth the subscription price. Give these two gentlemen a raise!


Better than a raise—a blog. Puzzlers will soon be able to read the puzzle masters’ comments on all things cryptic on our website. —The Editors