by Larry Kirwan
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
It seems that the composite opinion of alternative history authors is that if the Beatles had not succeeded, John Lennon would have lived his entire life on the dole reflecting on what might have been. This appeared in Ian MacLeod's story "Snodgrass" (1992) and is now the focal point of Larry Kirwan's Liverpool Fantasy, based on his 1986 play. While "Snodgrass" postulated a successful Beatles without Lennon, in Liverpool Fantasy, Lennon's departure from the Please, Please Me session of November 26, 1962 brought George and Ringo down with him, leaving only Paul to follow a successful career. "Snodgrass" envisions Lennon during a Beatles tour in 1992, while Liverpool Fantasy brings a successful Paul McCartney back to meet his old friends in Liverpool in 1987.
Although the focus of the novel is on Paul's reunion with his former bandmates, Kirwan also provides glimpses of British society in the mid-eighties, which all revolve around the rise of a fascist political party, the National Front of the United Kingdom (NFUK, or Fronters). Unfortunately, Kirwan never really explains how the breakup of the Beatles in 1962 leads to a rise in fascism in the 1980s. Similarly, he doesn't provide an adequate explanation for why Ringo Starr, who had only been with the Beatles for a month at the time of the break-up, tied his fate so closely to John Lennon's when he could easily have joined another band. At the same time, Peter Best still holds a grudge against the group for ditching him only a month before they broke up, and after their biggest success.
The Liverpool of Liverpool Fantasy is anything but a fantasy. In addition to the fascist political movement, the characters are stuck in dead-end lives, whether it is Lennon's life as a down-on-his-luck drunkard or George Harrison, as a priest who has suffered from an undisclosed mental breakdown. Furthermore, the former Beatles, as well as other groups from the early sixties, most notably Gerry and the Pacemakers, spend all of their time re-living their brief glory days. They even have groupies who remember those glory days.
The only real success in Liverpool Fantasy would appear to be Paul McCartney, who has spent the twenty-five years since the Beatles broke-up single standards as Paul Montana and hob-nobbing with other Las Vegas lounge acts. His life is not all skittles and beer, however. At a time when the real world McCartney had been happily married to his first wife, Linda, for more than twenty years, this alternative McCartney never met Linda and had gone through three divorces and was set to enter his fourth marriage.
Kirwan is strongest when he is providing a character study of his four main characters, although none of them really come to life beyond the anxieties each suffers from their years as failures and their impending reunion with the only member of the one-time band to leave Liverpool and achieve some success. Of course, the biggest conflict exists between McCartney and Lennon, the latter because he feels McCartney sold out to the establishment and the former because he fears Lennon might be right.
The writing in Liverpool Fantasy is not always riveting and the plot, such as it is, doesn't really go anywhere, often raising more questions that it answers. However, Kirwan does a good job of getting into the heads of people who feel that they may have missed their best chance and now have a chance to revisit it. Whether or not his portrayal of the four Beatles is accurate is open for debate and the story would have worked almost as well if he had provided the reader with four musicians who had been one-hit wonders without our knowledge of their "real" counterparts.
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