Promises to Keep

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

PROMISES TO KEEP is based on a fascinating premise. It is November 22, 1963. President John T. Cassidy is seriously wounded in Dallas. Major surgery saves the president’s life, though a long period of convalescence and additional surgery will be required to restore him to full health. For the first time in its history, the United States experiences a dual presidency, with Vice President Ransom W. Gardner (Lyndon Johnson’s equivalent) running the country. Cassidy is consulted and kept informed. Nominally, he remains the president. Gardner is ambitious, however. He quickly warms to the power of the presidency and takes steps to replace Cassidy as the Democratic nominee in 1964. The result is a progression of historical consequences markedly different from those which actually followed the assassination of John F.Kennedy. Who will be the presidential nominees for both major parties in 1964, and in 1968? Will the nation be spared the full agony of the war in Vietnam? Would Kennedy have been able to keep his promises to the nation? George Bernau provides reasonably plausible, if not profound, answers to these and related questions in this, his first novel.

To these political speculations, Bernau adds pinches both of intrigue and suspense. The Cassidy assassination attempt is treated as a conspiracy, with the actual triggerman loose and still determined to get his man. Thus, much more is at stake than Cassidy’s office.

PROMISES TO KEEP seems to have ingredients for a smashing television miniseries, which is probably where this work is headed. Great literature it is not. Bernau’s characters generally lack richness, and the Cassidy family, in particular, is rendered in an idealized, superficial fashion. Don DeLillo’s LIBRA, which handles the conspiracy angle, treats the Kennedy myth with far more depth. Bernau’s book is entertaining, nevertheless, and it may provide solace of sorts to those dismayed by the real course of American politics over the last two decades or so. For, despite its flaws, PROMISES TO KEEP does provide a sense of “good old days” that never were, but could have been.