Berger’s interests in science fiction, popular culture, and the ordinary lives of middle-class Americans all come together in Changing the Past. A mysterious stranger claiming to work for a government agency gives an unhappy New Yorker a chance for a different identity. Walter Hunsicker, copy editor at a large publishing house, has been chosen because he is seemingly satisfied with his wife, son, and job. Walter is a variation on the copywriter of Being Invisible (1987), who can disappear at will but remains at the mercy of the forces raging around him.
After one day as Jack Kellog, ruthless business tycoon, Walter wants to try again because that identity is too remote from how he sees himself. Berger then presents lengthy narratives with Walter as Jackie Kellog, vulgar nightclub comedian; John Kellog, novelist; and Jonathan Kellog, radio psychologist. In each life, Walter experiences setbacks before achieving success and fame, only for a decline to follow. He desperately wants love and sexual fulfillment, but things somehow never work out.
Berger satirizes topics such as show business, literary jealousies, self-help, politics, and fame as Walter/Kellog flails away at each of his lives. Jackie cynically uses people on his way to the top, and when his popularity wanes, he just as cynically resorts to religion in an attempt to regain favor. John becomes his unappetizing agent’s lover as a means of getting published....
(The entire section is 477 words.)