ADVERTISEMENT

October 17, 2013

BOOKS: 'TOP DOWN:' JFK novel lacks impact

BY DOUGLASS K. DANIEL

BY DOUGLASS K. DANIEL

Associated Press

"What if?" is a tried-and-true starting point for a novelist. In the case of "Top Down," PBS newsman and veteran fiction writer Jim Lehrer asks an intriguing question but doesn't quite come up with an equally intriguing answer.

What if the Secret Service agent who decided not to equip the presidential limousine with its bubble top ended up blaming himself for John F. Kennedy's assassination? Lehrer comes to the question naturally because, on Nov. 22, 1963, he was a young Dallas newspaper reporter covering the president's visit. In fact, he asked about the Plexiglas covering as the security detail prepared for the day's events.

In Lehrer's 21st novel, Dallas newspaper reporter Jack Gilmore looks back at the events of that awful day from the standpoint of five years. It's 1968, and college student Marti Walters enlists Gilmore to help save her father from the depression that's killing him. He's been tortured by the belief that the Plexiglas covering he decided not to install would have deflected Lee Harvey Oswald's bullets.

Gilmore is moved less by the idea of saving agent Walters from himself -- or by the possibility of romance with Marti -- than the prospect of a sweet exclusive for the newspaper. He agrees to keep the whole episode off the record in order to participate, but can he keep such a promise?

It's a promising plot, especially as a cultural take on the event that rocked the country a half-century ago. Yet Lehrer is slow to get it off the ground -- recording the Walters family's reaction to the assassination is not at all compelling -- and the payoff is thin. A bigger point about America then and now, how we deal with honor, or even the "what if's" in our own lives is too understated if not absent.

Two years ago, Stephen King turned his own "what if" on the Kennedy assassination into a doorstop of a best-seller, "11/22/63." Under 200 pages, Lehrer's novel is a quarter the size of King's -- and far lighter in all the ways that count.





Further Discussion

Here at OnlineSentinel.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)


  • Back to Real Life

News
Sports
Opinion
Community
What's Happening

© 2014 The Morning Sentinel - All Rights Reserved.
MaineToday Media
31 Front Street, Waterville, Maine 04901
(207) 873-3341