A Disturbance of Fate

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In A Disturbance of Fate, Mitchell J. Freedman has produced what he calls “alternative historical fiction.” By allowing Robert F. Kennedy to escape Sirhan Sirhan’s fatal bullet, he sets the stage for a second Kennedy presidency, creatively imagining the implications such a presidency would have for the real world. Freedman clearly knows his history; the pages of the novel are filled with the names and events that filled American newspapers in the mid-twentieth century.

While Mitchell’s premise is fascinating, and his book comprehensive, his stylistic choices are often puzzling. On the one hand, long passages of historical exposition are interspersed with dialogue, apparently to give the book the feel of a novel. On the other hand, Freedman provides copious endnotes detailing the “RFK timeline.” His purpose in this, he states, is to make the book “just like a ’real’ history book.”

Perhaps the oddest choice, however, is his decision to render the speech of his Southern characters in dialect. For example, Ralph Yarborough, RFK’s Vice President, says things like this: “Ah know mah way out, Mr. President. You all’s got your hands full. Ah had mah share o’ family man duties. Just call me later if the speechifiers haven’t got what ya need.” Freedman renders Lyndon Johnson’s speech similarly. Oddly, however, RFK and his Boston brood speak standard mid-American English without a hint of an accent.

In spite of the book’s flaws, patient readers will find A Disturbance of Fate to be an interesting, if exhausting, foray into an alternative past.