Once There Was a Way: What If The Beatles Stayed Together? by Bryce Zabel (2017)

Speculative Fiction
Once There Was a Way: What If The Beatles Stayed Together? by Bryce ZabelAlternative histories can be interesting explorations of “what if” scenarios. It’s been more than a dozen years but I still recall the fascination I felt in reading Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America in which a Republican president Charles Lindbergh takes office in 1940 and signs a non-aggression pact with Hitler. So when this book came up in my list of upcoming offerings, I thought I’d give it a try. I have to confess I’m not a particular fan of The Beatles, though I certainly enjoy much of their music. However, I’m too young to remember them performing, and I honestly don’t know very much about their history. Still, this sounded interesting. I soon found myself cursing at the book out of sheer irritation. Zaber has taken real events and twisted them to fit a fictional narrative. The problem was that I didn’t know enough about the Beatles’ history to sort out fact from fiction; as a result I spent as much time looking up the truth about the Fab Four’s history as I did reading the book. The Hells Angels really did visit Apple Studios, but as far as I can tell there was no collapse of the floor when a sound engineer took out a supporting wall. Watergate makes an appearance, but the kidnapping of Patty Hearst has been replaced with a fictional one. Beyond this, my biggest hurdle is that so few of these characters, real or imagined, is worth spending time with as a reader. The book is written in third-person, journalistic style, told as an imaginary research piece. But the method fails to help the reader understand John and Yoko as a couple, George Harrison’s fascination with Eastern music and philosophy, etc. I wanted to get into their heads, and this feels like dispassionate reporting of what in reality is a series of made-up “facts.” Fake news, lol! Zaber includes a postscript in which he sorts out the truth from the imaginary. Perhaps a real Beatles fan would enjoy the crazy playing with album and song titles, rumours (like the making of a Lord of the Rings film with Kubrick) and real events, but it drove me nuts. I think I’ll stick with real history. Thanks to Diversion Books for the advance reading copy provided through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
More discussion and reviews of this book: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36630607


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