Where to start with Once There Was a Way: What If The Beatles Stayed Together? by Bryce Zabel? I think maybe first I need to write the definitions of “historical fiction” and “alternative history” since it is the later category that Mr. Zabel uses for this novel.
An essential element of historical fiction is that it is set in the past and pays attention to the manners, social conditions and other details of the period depicted. Authors also frequently choose to explore notable historical figures in these settings, allowing readers to better understand how these individuals might have responded to their environments. Some subgenres such as alternate history and historical fantasy insert speculative or ahistorical elements into a novel.
Alternate history or alternative history sometimes abbreviated as AH, is a genre of fiction consisting of stories in which one or more historical events occur differently. These stories usually contain “what if” scenarios at crucial points in history and present outcomes other than those in the historical record. The stories are conjectural, but are sometimes based on fact.
There is also fan fiction which I define as complete works of fiction using real life people as characters.
I know these categories are very similar, but the best way for me to describe the difference is on a personal level. I love historical fiction novels about Edgar Allan Poe. The authors of these books (click to see the Poe books I’m talking about) use real life events in Poe’s life and build a story around it with minimal, if any, changes to Poe’s history. Fan fiction would take Poe and put him into situations that he would have never been in, altering the outcome of his life completely. Another example of historical fiction would be Can’t Buy Me Love by Dan McNeil in which he wrote a great mystery novel around the night that the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan show without changing their story.
So, given the definitions above, I would put this book in the Fan Fiction category because the author doesn’t start the story at the end of the Beatles story when the band officially broke up. Mr. Zabel went back to the year 1968 and changed the history of the Fab Four including the title and song list of several of their albums. Imagine, if you will, if songs that were released on each of the their solo albums were part a group album. Imagine #9 Dream without May Pang saying “John….John…” Imagine Yoko Ono and Linda McCartney as friends, and Allen Klein and Lee Eastman all working together to keep the Beatles together. The Beatles win Oscars for their work in Stanley Kubrick’s The Lord of the Rings. They star in a remake of Murder on the Orient Express. John is kidnapped by the politically far-left group the Weather Underground and eventually pardoned by Gerald Ford. A nineteen year old Steve Jobs befriends George Harrison and becomes the head of Apple Computers…a division of Apple Corp. Could this things have happened if the Beatles broke up in 1975? Can you dig it?
The fans of fan fiction are going to love this book. The writing is exceptional and despite my dislike for fan fiction, there was a point where I found myself caught up in the kidnapping of Lennon. But I believe that the true Beatles fans who are purists are going to roll their eyes and toss this book aside before finishing the first chapter. This makes my job as a reviewer very tough since I need to figure out if I’m reviewing this book for Beatles fan fiction lovers or Beatles purists (and I hope the three winners of this book will comment after reading it)…so for that reason, I went middle of the road…
I rate this book, 2 out of 4 Beetles!