From the Grassy Knoll
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.
…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.