“Where were you when you first heard President Kennedy had been shot?” We can all answer that question, even if the answer is, “’I wasn’t born yet.’” This is the first line of David Bowman’s latest novel “Big Bang.” Bowman contends that the November 22, 1963 assassination was an earth-shattering event that changed the world forever. It was the second Big Bang.
This quirky novel offers a fictional history of the years leading up to the presidential shooting. Bowman reimagines the lives of numerous celebrities as they are altered by this epic event—Lucille Ball is interrogated by the House un-American Activities Committee, Jackie Onassis takes a moonlight cruise with Frank Sinatra, counterculture guitarist Jimi Hendrix appears as a clean-cut Army recruit.
The 600-page, mid-century portrait of America is fast driven and reflects massive historical research. The narrative is hilarious as the author juxtaposes famous individuals within incidents constructed from his own imagination: Albert Camus and Maria Callas have an affair; JFK and Aristotle Onassis commiserate over the Kennedy’s stillborn child; Arthur Miller and Saul Bellow briefly become neighbors while waiting for speedy divorces in Nevada.
Bowman’s novel shines light on other iconic figures of the era: J. D. Salinger, Senator Joseph McCarthy, Marilyn Monroe, Richard Nixon, Elvis Presley and dozens of other well-known people as they make their way through life. Through Bowman’s brilliant grasp of the events of that era, the reader gains a full picture of the culture.
The structure of the novel is unique in that it is a continuous series of short narratives. There are multiple plots involving corporate heads, artists, actors, politicians and policymakers. It is an easy book to pick up for a few minutes and then put down. His character descriptions bring to life these historic figures with imagination and creativity possible only in a novel.
“Big Bang” was left unpublished when Bowman died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 2012. He was the author of three other books, including his most popular piece, “Let the Dog Drive.” Little, Brown is the publisher of this weird mosaic of mid-20th century history.