A DISTURBANCE OF FATE

by Mitchell J. Freedman

Seven Locks Press

1-931643-22-9

687pp/$27.95/2003

A Disturbance of Fate

Reviewed by Steven H Silver


One of the most unique novels in the field of alternate history is Robert Sobelís For Want of a Nail, which gives no indication that the author, a economic historian who taught at Hofstra, was aware of the world in which we actually live.  The book contains maps, footnotes, appendices, and an index which make it appear the work has fallen through a wormhole from an alternative universe.  In A Disturbance of Fate, Mitchell J. Freedman emulates Sobel, although his severance with our own world is in no way as complete.  Freedmanís work refers to our own world and the endnotes often serve to elucidate the differences between Freedmanís world and our own.

Freedman's world diverges from our own when Sirhan B. Sirhan fails to assassinate Robert F. Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel in 1968.  Kennedy goes on to win the Democratic nomination and then the presidency, and Freedman follows him every step (and mis-step) of the way.  While Freedman notes the polemical nature of his work, it does have a bit of a Candide "best of all possible worlds" feel to it which makes a reader pause.

Freedman's style of writing is halfway between a novel and a history text.  Although there are lengthy passages of exposition, he is also equally at home in depicting dialogues with a novelist's flair.  At times, this causes a bit of literary whiplash for the reader who falls into the novel frame of reading and is suddenly dropped out of it as Freedman reminds the reader that he is writing in a more historical style.  Nevertheless, the balance generally works and allows him to present the personalities of his characters better than if he had struck to the straight historical style and the macroevents better than if he were simply relating events from his characters' points of view.

Practically all of the characters who populate Freedman's book have existence in our own world, although often in different roles or have achieved a different amount of notoriety or fame.  Freedman is careful to show the research he has done, as well as explain how their roles differ from the real world and the world of the book.  This means, however, that Freedman literally has a cast of thousands, some of whom will be familiar to different segments of his readership.  But when a reader familiar with, for instance, Phil Crane, comes across his name, it will immediately bring to mind certain associations which will help tint the reader's view of the character and the book as a whole.

One of the things Freedman does to give his work an additional feel of verisimilitude is to include endnotes throughout.  While Sobel's footnotes referred to the fictitious historical texts of his alternative world, Freedman's endnotes often explain how things differ between his timeline and our own.  For readers interested in Freedman's notes, their inclusion is a bonus, but their location at the end of the book rather than at the bottom of the page has a tendency to break up the narrative flow of A Disturbance of Fate.

A Disturbance of Fate is not an easy book to read, partly because of Freedman's style, but also because he is dealing with a period of American history which is still fresh enough in many people's memories that the wounds have not yet healed (as can be witnessed by some of the events in the current electoral cycle).  Similarly, with some people comparing the current conflict in Iraq to the Vietnamese conflict so important to the beginning of the book, A Disturbance of Fate may appear to have a disturbing resonance to some of its readers.  Nevertheless, it is an interesting and clever book.


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