NOTE: I understand from the author that this book is undergoing some changes, so this advance review may not apply to the final published edition.
"They wanted a good more than that." A good bit more than that? A good deal...?
"We need to keep our stories straights." - too many esses!
"I’m going back to December 9, 1980" - you'd be a day late. He was killed the night of December eighth!
I finished this book yesterday, and while I went into it thinking "Don't let me down" and so wanting it to please, please me, in the end it didn't come together, and it can't buy my love. This fiction followed a long and winding road like an old brown shoe, as it asked the question, "What if someone could go back in time and save John Lennon from being killed that chill, early December night in 1980?" It sounded like a great premise to me.
Lenny's ("Is his name actually Lennon?" I initially asked, but no, it isn't, I'm sorry to say!) story is that he's staying with his granddad and his granddad's husband (which was a nice touch) while his mom is out of town. Dad left a long time ago for a girl he met at a ball game, and Lenny was angry. He became Lenny the Lion, stealing coffee cups from the display at Starbucks and selling them. This eventually earned him a trip to a psychiatrist's office, which is oddly where he learned to play guitar. Anyone who has actually tried to learn to play guitar is going to resent how easy it was for him. I know I do!
A day in the life of first person PoV Lenny Funk (which is why we get no perspective on Yoko) consists of him playing his guitar in the Columbus Circle subway station to make some cash. Yoko (not that Yoko! This is a younger, modern Yoko who isn't even Japanese) shows up when a bully is giving Lenny grief. Lenny talks her into singing with him, and we read, "A crowd of people gathers around us..." What would have been wrong with writing, "A crowd of people stopped and stared" - a line from the Lennon-McCartney song, A day in the Life, one of the few songs to which they actually both contributed significantly, and specifically, a line that Lennon himself wrote? That would have been so cool, but it was a glorious opportunity missed, and in the end, that came to signify the entire novel. I was guessing at this point that we'd be seeing very few Lennon or Beatles references of this nature, and I was right. It was one in a too-long line of chances which were squandered thoughtlessly. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da!
The real starting point of this story is where Lenny discovers that an iPod nano, given to him by his grandfather, is his ticket to ride a time portal. When he plays a song from a certain time, he can physically travel back to that time and interact with people there, although how this works is rather arbitrary and very convenient for Lenny and Yoko, and when a friend like Yoko says, "I wanna hold your hand" they can travel with him. This is a great premise which reminded me of the Kathleen Turner - Nicholas Cage movie, Peggy Sue Got Married, which I loved and which was also heavily influenced by music. This is a different story, but while it's technically well-written and was quite engrossing to begin with, overall, I can't recommend it as a worthy read because there was far too much wrong with the story to let it slide.
The first sickening problem I had was with the "women are only worth anything if they're beautiful" insult to which far too many writers seem addicted, and with which this novel is replete. I know Lenny is a high school kid and this is his PoV, but he gets on this one-note song and he never gets off it. Pretty much as soon as Yoko showed up, I read, "...but this girl is maybe the best-looking female to talk to me. Ever." A couple of screens after that, he's convinced he's in love with Yoko. This shallowness gave me no confidence whatsoever that Lenny would ever be able to do anything for John Lennon! Worse than this, and at the same time that we’re being told that only beautiful young women are worth anything, we’re also learning not a thing about how Yoko feels about anything, and this is serving only to reinforce what we’ve been told: that what’s going on in a girl's mind is unimportant because only her looks matter. It’s truly nauseating, especially from a near-adult make character.
The litany of beautiful was ugly:
- Even the most jaded of commuters can’t ignore a beautiful girl singing her heart out.
- Did a beautiful girl my own age...
- I'm the one with the beautiful girl...
- Yoko’s beautiful face pops into my mind.
- ...where a group of beautiful women are crowded around the owner...
- There are, of course, beautiful women with them
- “I knew it was her because she looks just like you, just as beautiful.”
- She is so beautiful.
The insults get personal too. Shakira gets this: "Shakira is an exotic beauty" - and this was to imply that Yoko was not, which is insulting at best and racist at worst. It;s insulting to Yoko and to Shakira nbecuase it implies she has little or nothignt o offer other than her looks, which is pure bullshit. I'll bet you didn't know that Katy Perry has nothing to offer but her looks, either did you? That's what this tells me: "Well, John is a man and Katy Perry is a looker..." That insults not only Katy Perry, but also John Lennon! It could have said, "Well they're both talented musicians" but it didn't. It could have said they were both about human rights, but it didn't. Instead, it deliberately took the low road and thereby promoted John as shallowly searching for a hot babe, and Katy Perry as a skin-seep sex doll with no self respect.
Yoko (her name means ocean child, but it can mean many other kinds of child - ko - depending on how it's written) Ono comes in for some abuse later, too. It seems evident from this writing that this author is one of those who blames the Beatles break-up on Yoko, when the truth is that she really had little to do with it. It implies that John Lennon, who had already left the band but had not yet publicized it, has no mind of his own, and it also ignores the fact that the break-up was actually about many things, including Paul's very public quitting. All of this in turn was really all down to the lack of effective and consensus leadership after Brian Epstein died. Paul's hissy-fit over the other three not wanting his father-in-law to run Apple Corps didn't help. Of course, there were more currents running, and running deep here, than can be detailed with any simplicity, but the absolute best you could argue is that Yoko was merely one catalyst. You cannot realistically or fairly make her carry that weight alone.
A major issue for me was how unbelievably expert these seventeen-year-old kids were about the sixties. Yes, I'm sure there are some young people out there who do know more than you'd expect, but these two (Yoko and Lenny) were Mary Sue and Gary Stu. They had an all access pass wherever they went, and they knew everything about everything no matter which time period they were in. it was too much. At the same time, paradoxically, they knew nothing, because their entire focus was on musicians and music and they were completely oblivious to everything else around them. This made then truly annoying, juvenile, and shallow.
The idea comes up in the story that Jim Morrison can be prevented from overdosing, and later, that John Lennon can be saved from being murdered, but never once do we hear it even suggested that they could go back and save Martin Luther King, or Bobby Kennedy, or the passengers on the Pan-Am 103 flight that crashed at Lockerbie, or some three-thousand people in the Twin Towers, or the sixteen thousand or so who have died from the Union Carbide incompetence at Bhopal. This complete lack of awareness and this obsessive-compulsive focus on The Beatles only made the characters seem more dull and more shallow than ever. I get that this was about one theme, but the failure to even mention, let alone address other possibilities made the two main characters callous and selfish. I didn't like either of them.
On a matter of a pet peeve which has nothing to do with this novel, I used the word 'murder' back there deliberately, because from everything I've read about John Lennon, he was one of the least pretentious and most down-to-Earth people there was, and I honestly don't believe that he would want to be put up on a pedestal or compared, via this kind of terminology, to people like Ghandi. If he was that kind of a person, he would never have returned his MBE.
On top of all the other issues, Yenny and Loko were shown to be incredibly stupid, making the same chronically bad decision twice in a row in allowing someone to stay back in time for a visit. Lenny in particular was shown to be thoroughly clueless and incompetent with his decisions. This occurs often in time-travel movies. For example, Marty McFly's decision in Back to the Future to add only a few minutes to his return time to save Doc Brown's life, when he could have added an hour or a day or a week is a direct parallel to Lenny's last minute idiocy. Authors so easily forget that these are time travel stories: you can go back and back and back again until you get it right, unless there is some feature to the travel which prevents it. Indeed, this was a feature of Bill Murray's Groundhog Day movie, but Lenny never gets it. Yes, his time is dwindling, but he still has plenty of time and he fails.
If this had been one of those 'butterfly effect' movies where something that's changed in the past results in a horrible dystopian future, I could see how the ending, while still poor, might have made a limp kind of sense, but we'd already been shown that this isn't he case, so that excuse wasn't on the table. If we'd been shown that fate intervenes to 'correct' changes that are made, this would have been another validation, of a weak kind, of the ending, but none of that held, so the ending made zero sense. However, it was infinitely better than the dumb alternate universe we did see, which was truly sad (and not in a good way).
Even the times he does go back he fails in an epic manner, and he's too stupid to figure out why. We can work it out, but he evidently can't. At one point, a simple call to the police would have fixed all of his problems, but he's quite evidently not smart enough to entertain such an idea. One of the best loved episodes of time-travel sci-fi series Doctor Who actually makes a virtue of the "Why don't they ever go to the police?" question, and is the better for it. Unfortunately, Lenny doesn't know how to ask for a little help from his friends!
The overall impression I had from this was that the story had not been well thought through, so it's hello, goodbye to this one, and I feel fine about that. It read more like a second or third draft than a finished story, and on top of that, something about the way it portrayed John Lennon, particularly in the later chapters, felt disrespectful. While I could bring up other issues, I think this is plenty to make my point. I can't in good faith recommend a story which is obviously lacking so much in plot and character and where, in the end, the sum total of what we learn about the main character is that all he needs is love, but the fact is that he's a real nowhere man and this bird has flown.