Friday, January 20, 2012

Beatles Fiction in Review: A Date With Mercy Street

I should preface this post by explaining why the site hasn't been updated in a while. The short answer: I took a break from reading relevant titles, and when school started for the little one I lost track of my many leisure pursuits. During this time, I fully intended to revive the site and read more rock-related novels and bios, but few caught my attention enough to draw me to read. I started a Bob Dylan bio, set it down, tried a Tom Waits book, put it down, and so forth. I supposed I needed to be in the right frame of mind to pick up the genre again.

Recently, though, I learned that the New York Beatles Fest was coming back to the Meadowlands in March (yes, that's technically New Jersey, but anything in the area is labeled NYC for reasons I don't ask to have explained) and I'm planning a trip up with the little one. I've longed to attend a Beatles Fest for years - when I was a teenager in Florida I used to get the catalogs and newsletters from Mark Lapidos, and hoped one day to get to Chicago where the main event is held annually. I like that there's a second event in the NYC area because it's closer, and I like that Micky Dolenz is one of the headliners. Just sounds like an awesome event.

With the Beatles on the brain, I took advantage of the high and tucked into two quick novels, both inspired by the same subject but entirely different. John Lennon and the Mercy Street Cafe is a work some would call "magic realism" in that the contemporary setting is enhanced by something extra that can't be classified as fantasy or paranormal. The protagonist, advertising executive Amy Parisi, is dissatisfied with her work and her love life, and basically feeling low about everything that goes on in between the two frustrations. Who doesn't experience this, yes, but few people are able to find a diversion in a private John Lennon concert. Amy can't quite believe it herself when she happens upon a cafe situated on a street that isn't supposed to exist, and sees a man who is supposed to be dead strumming on a guitar and singing to empty chairs.

What is John Lennon doing back in New York nearly thirty years after his death? He isn't sure, either, and Amy isn't sure why she's the only one who can see him, and the cafe - which appears as an abandoned storefront to the rest of the world. A chance (or perhaps fated) meeting with a writer named David begins a journey for Amy...and David and Amy's ex-boyfriend and John as they try to determine the purpose of their existence. What does Amy truly want in life, for one, and why is John back?

It may sound odd for me to say now, "Here's where it gets weird." I've thought a long time on how to explain this book. It can be split into two sections: the Mercy Street period and what I'd call the Time Warp period. Without getting too much into detail, this motley crew ends up driving across the country and ostensibly through time, sharing John's music and ideals while John absorbs the influence of the times. When the trip comes full circle the impact hits home, and isn't exactly welcomed by everybody. Lennon's entanglements with the FBI are no secret, and author Hammett injects a bit of government intrigue into the story. In truth, I enjoyed the story while it stayed in New York, but got lost on the road trip. While I understood what the author intended to convey, but I suppose as a reader I was more interested in seeing Lennon experience the culture shock of returning home after thirty years to see what had changed - particularly among family and friends. Mercy Street Cafe is quite a trip, but it took a different route I didn't expect.

Compared to this work, A Date With a Beatle will probably take you less time to read because the prose is much simpler. I actually did read it in about a day, not necessarily because I found it riveting. It's a short book, with very short chapters, and it's just a quick read with a basic plot threaded through enthusiastic teen dialogue.

The protagonist is Jude, a hardly mild-mannered Beatlemanic determined to meet her one and only - quiet George. Marketing for the book implies this is a true story, and it may very well be, but there is a definite roman a clef feel to the book. Luckily for Jude, she is close enough to New York and other points on the map to cut school and con her way to the boys' hotel for a hopeful encounter. Along the way there is a scuffle with another "number one" Beatles fan and a few law enforcement officers who've had enough of the screaming girls.

Other reviews of Date I've seen compare the story to that of I Wanna to Hold Your Hand, a movie about a group of rabid fans trying to meet the Fabs. I've not seen the movie myself, but I'm sure author Kristen's book benefits from the personal experience and memory felt throughout the story. There really isn't much more I can say about it because it is simple. Boy is one of the four most famous people in the world, girl wants to meet him. Who didn't back then, or now?

Ratings: John Lennon and the Mercy Street Cafe -  B- ; A Date With a Beatle - C

Kathryn Lively is a mystery author whose titles include Dead Barchetta and Pithed: An Andy Farmer Mystery. 

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