Friday, September 21, 2012

Hippie Noir: Any Day Now by Terry Bisson



Well, not exactly noir,  but a novel in which things turn very dark indeed. In fact, it's more a what-could-have-happened novel; sort of  a hippie version of Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. A speculative fiction writer with a number of novels under his belt, Bisson writes with considerable fluidity, not quite a minimalist, but he has clearly honed  his writing down to its essentials.  His subject here is much the same as Peter Coyote's in Sleeping Where I Fall.  In other words, it's a memoir of the 1960s, but this one moves from Kentucky to Weatherman apartments in New York to hippie communes in New Mexico. So far, so familiar. But, gradually, one notices various discrepancies between what we know happened during that described,  and how Bisson has recorded it. At first, it's small things, like a slight difference in the chronology of events, which, at first, you  think might be a mistake or editorial oversight. Then you realize you've entered  Bisson's world.  Martin Luther King hasn't been assassinated. Nor has  Robert Kennedy. At least not at the moment recorded in the world  outside Bisson's novel. More than that I'm reluctant to say. Other than, with the help of the Weather underground and conflicting forces, things rapidly unravel, the country is torn apart, and the novel's protagonist, would-be poet Clay, moves from New York to a commune in New Mexico. From which point things deteriorate even further. What's interesting about the novel is how history can be so easily altered. What, for instance, what would have happened had RFK lived, or, for that matter, had Gore rather than Bush become president in 2000. Or,  in the UK, if  Tony Benn, back in the 1980s, had defeated Dennis Healy as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in the run up to the miners' strike.  It's all speculation, and Bisson takes it to its furthest possible conclusion. And he does so with a considerable amount of style. It's his ability to do so that makes  Any Day Now  more interesting than Coyote's memoir, and, for me, puts it up there with some of the speculative fiction by  Michael Chabon or  Jonathan Lethem.  It's the first novel I've read by Bisson, but I doubt very much if it will be the last. http://www.facebook.com/facebook-widgets/share.php

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