SURROUNDED BY ENEMIES
by Bryce Zabel
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Aside from the American Civil War and World War II, the Kennedy assassination may be the most commonly used focal point for alternate history stories, featured in Stephen Baxter's vision of the space program, Voyage, Stephen King's epic 11/22/63, and Simon Burns's allohistorical essay "What if Lee Harvey Oswald Had Missed." Bryce Zabel offers his own version of events following a failed assassination of Kennedy in Surrounded by Enemies: What if Kennedy Survived Dallas?
In Zabel's world, Kennedy survived due to the sacrifice of Secret Service agent Clint Hill, Texas Governor John Connally, and Police Officer J. D. Tippit (who actually was killed that day). In the aftermath of the assassinations, the question arose concerning jurisdiction, with both the federal and local government claiming the responsibility for examining the shooting. While those issues are being fought over, Kennedy is enjoying a brief period of approval immediately before the 1964 Presidential campaign, which he wins handily against Barry Goldwater. Unfortunately, scandal begins to dog the President immediately after the campaign when a pair of reporters from the fictional Top Story magazine begins to reveal secrets about the President's sexual escapades.1
Eventually, Zabel's book looks at a Kennedy impeachment, which is modeled after Richard Nixon's issues surrounding the Watergate break-in in the 1970s as well as the investigation and proceedings surrounding Bill Clinton's impeachment in the 1990s. Zabel changes the specific details, but reading the novel, these incidents are brought to mind. One thing that does ring false, however, was the ease with which impeachment proceedings were brought against Kennedy. While charges were brought against Clinton in 1998 and have been discussed by some extremists with regard to both Bush and Obama, until there was a discussion of impeachment of Nixon in 1973, impeachment was not seen as just another tool in the political arsenal since it hadn't been used in over a century, since the impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868.
The novel is written as a non-fiction look at Kennedy's Presidency and impeachment rather than as a traditional fictional narrative. This allows Zabel to provide historical perspective for his story, looking back on the Kennedy period (and post-Kennedy period) and offer insight into what it all meant. At the same time, there are indications that by the mid-1980s, Zabel's alternative history has "corrected" itself to be in line with out own history...Presidents from Reagan to Obama appear to be intact, although the year's differ slightly, and historical events appear to be pretty much in line with our own history.
When dealing with popular points of divergence, what sets the story apart from other similar tales is the presentation and the way the author chooses to have the story play out. Zabel's presentation is interesting a fresh, looking at Kennedy's administration from an historical perspective that also deconstructs the Camelot myth that has persisted due, in large part, to Kennedy's assassination. Whether or not Zabel's story of impeachment is plausible is left up to the reader, although it never quite seems to come across as convincing, perhaps because there is so much of the Nixon investigation and Clinton impeachment behind his story.
1. Each chapter of the book is illustrated with a cover from the fictional magazine
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