I’m old enough to remember RFK. I was 15, a sophomore in high school. America was a mess, and Kennedy’s assassination seemed a blow to the hopes of fixing that mess. 1968 was a year of political assassination, social upheaval, violence in our streets, and the escalating war in Vietnam. On the occasion of Kennedy’s death, though I shed tears, I had little knowledge of the notion of regret.
Katie confronts readers with the notion of regret in the first line of Beat the Blues. As a new high school graduate, she is unaware of life’s ebbs and flows, and so resents the everyday normalcy around her so soon after Kennedy’s murder. She informs a neighbor, “…tragedy is a form of history.” Introspective and sensitive, four years later as a college graduate, she heads off to New York City on her own in search of a career in print journalism. Carrying her portable typewriter, Katie tells her mother, “I’m going to help fix the trouble.”
Since the novel takes place over the course of 40 years, characters are tempted to look back to their pasts. They find it difficult to look back with objectivity. The past takes root, grows, and bends with the winds of their lives–the hurts, the slights, the regrets. To fight the winds, they build foundations. They choose a place, gravitate toward fellow believers, and hold on. Sometimes when they look back, their memory plays tricks. Memory illuminates what they wish to recall, dims what they desire to dismiss.
But fiction, like history, tolerates no such trickery. Fiction concerns truth. Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth,~Albert Camus. Katie’s idealism and courage never leave her. She stays true to those qualities. Even though she may be unaware of life’s ups and downs in the novel’s first line, she is quite aware and unafraid of them at the novel’s end. Perhaps the way Robert Kennedy was made aware of life’s cruelty after the assassination of his brother.
Robert Kennedy is a hero to Katie. Was he a hero to me? It isn’t important to the novel. I can say with certainty he wasn’t a hero when I was 15. But change in real life is as certain and as necessary as change in a novel. I can see more clearly now what was lost when RFK died. I can see who and what has taken his place. And I understand the notion of regret.
Beat the Blues releases June 21st.