Category Archives: Historical Fiction

Book Review: “The Boys Next Door” by Dan Greenberger

This review is written by Amy McGrath Hughes.

The Boys Next Door Dan GreenbergerIn the surroundings that revolve around The Beatles history, none is more fascinating than their time in Hamburg. Setting off that, author Dan Greenberger immerses his narrator and chief character Alan Levy into an alternate universe where Levy delves into the dirty, foul and fascinating period in those all-to-real hard times.

The Boys Next Door (Appian Way Press, 2020) is a coming-of-age story – albeit one that involves copious amounts of booze, drugs and sex. In this situation, Greenberger lets loose the unhinged, rogue-like characters of 1960 Beatles that we’ve come to know – all very un-PC in language, attitude and social interaction. And with Levy, migrating from the comforts of the US, he quickly realizes his standing here is on shaky ground.

Levy sets out as a post-graduate student from Columbia University with hopes for higher education in Hamburg. Nearly immediately we see him set down in that Beatle-y familiar hellhole: living in squalid conditions in the Bambi Kino, arranged by the thoroughly unlikable Bruno Koschmider and being awoken at night constantly by this band he has yet to meet. By casting Levy as an American Jew, we know right off the bat where this is headed in humor: off-color descriptions from Levy’s first-person account on the German people (and vice versa on the anti-Semitism still prevalent in post WWII Germany), the temptations of the Reeperbahn red-light district and through letters back home, we get an idea that he believes he is ‘all that’ as a poet and serious artist. Until he meets Astrid Kirchherr.

As he becomes smitten with the cooler than cool photographer, he manages to finally meet his next-door neighbors: John (all potty-mouth and pusher-of-buttons), Paul (all touchy-feely-huggy), George (all puppy-eyed and young), Pete (all nothing) and most importantly Stuart, who becomes the object of Astrid’s affection and the thorn in the side of Levy’s pursuit of her.

We get an eye-opening sense of the carnal atmosphere and near lethal encounters that The Beatles endured during that first club run. Author Greenberger weaves well-known scenes: Astrid’s photographing the band, the revolutionary haircut and the introduction of Klaus Voormann and Jurgen Vollmer with the fictionalized characters that showcase Levy’s interaction as a student which makes way for a dive down a rather unexpected path.

As posed here Levy works his way into The Beatles inner circle, hanging with them (in and out of the clubs), fantasizing that he and Astrid are a couple and using this time period to showcase the harsh realities of how life can change so dramatically – from promising student and aspiring poet to beer-guzzling, pill-popping hanger-on willing to throw away a pretty good life and become one of them. For good measure, Greenberger exits the story with Levy hastily leaving via the real-life incidents that led to The Beatles deportation and wondering about his and the band’s future; for good or bad is left up to the reader.

I found the writing style alternatingly engaging and repulsive and by repulsive, I mean the transformation that took place in Levy’s character – not the way he visualized but certainly crafted by his involvement with the group and their lifestyle. Not everyone who orbited around The Beatles in real-life at this time escaped without damage and Greenberger’s take was fairly point on without being overly maudlin or drama filled.

I also found his letter-writing to friends and family back home hysterical. Without giving away a spoiler, a near-to-the-end note composed as a bit of farewell to his best friend back in NYC had me howling at the reveal.

Appreciative of the period narrative, the immersion into the seediness that ultimately was The Beatles real growth as a unit and an unusual perspective that involved clever character dialogue…

I give this book 4 out of 4 beetles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “Once There Was A Way: What if The Beatles stayed together?” by Bryce Zabel

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.

From Wikipedia:

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!

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Book Review, Fan Fiction, Historical Fiction