GENRE: Thriller; 1960s-era picaresque novel.
THEME: At one level, Karma; at a deeper level, Free Will as a realization that any decision will destroy other possible futures.
MAJOR SETTINGS: DALLAS, NEW ORLEANS, AND LAS VEGAS.
SYMBOLS: The story’s symbolic thrust lies in the assassination of JFK and its legacy of conspiracy theories.
HISTORY: Specific details on cars; TV watching; casino glamour, mobster legend; and contemporaneous music. Also implicated are the stirrings of the Vietnam War and the rise of feminism.
Three deep point-of-view 3rd person narrators–Frank, Charlotte, and Barone–whose chapters follow the same time line until threads grow complex, when there occurs a modicum of time replay. No intrusive flashbacks. All the major characters are awash in cogent symbolism.
DIALOGUE: Seemingly authentic and consolidated by an array of thoughts and feelings.
LANGUAGE: The language is economical, unpretentious, and gripping, appropriate to the landscapes, characters, and historical time period. Dramatic irony adds to the tension. Well-crafted symbols, metaphors, similes, and objective correlatives indicate a literary flair.
THE SET UP:
Carlos, a New Orleans mobster hates JFK and sets up his assassination with the help of his black legal adviser Seraphine. But when the FBI gets involved, everyone who participated in the hit–however unknowingly–is listed for elimination. Frank is Carlos’ right-hand man, but he drove the getaway car to Houston and suspects he’s on the hit list. When he’s dispatched to Houston to drive the car into the river, his suspicion hardens to certainty and his charmed life hits the skids.
CHARACTER ARCS: SPOILER ALERT
FRANK: The core lesson for Frank is that every decision he makes destroys the possibility of other futures.
Stasis: In the clover, Frank acts as Carlos’ lieutenant but his assignments are not specified. He is handsome, charming, and well-dressed, with a smile for every occasion. His sex life is exactly how he likes it: easy and without strings.
Up: In Houston, he checks into his hotel, drives the getaway car into the river, and returns to his hotel to relax. Offered some weed, he realizes, belatedly, he’s being set up (he assumes by Seraphine) and he runs from the hotel and its presumptive assailants.
Down: On the run, he buys a second-hand car but a corrupt sheriff picks him up and holds him for Carlos’ hit man.
Up: Frank talks his way out of jail, assumes the disguise of an insurance-salesman, and drives west while the hit man (Barone) kills everyone in the jail.
Up: Frank meets Charlotte and her girls Joan and Rosemary at a motel and strives to make them and the dog Lucky familiar with him.
Up: His relationship with Charlotte and her family deepens, but at first his plan is to use them as his “family” cover. He arranges to meet with Ed Zingel in Las Vegas, who plans to get him out of the country and into Vietnam to run a business preparatory to the war he sees looming.
Stasis: He meets with Ed and can’t stop Ed including Charlotte and the girls, but he plans to extract Ed’s promise to let them accompany him to Vietnam.
Down: Ed’s butler betrays his boss and Frank, for the reward money, but both they and a teenage girl are killed. Frank returns to the hotel to discover than Charlotte and the girls are gone. In the parking lot, he’s accosted by a bleeding, dying Barone who wants Frank to drive him back to New Orleans to kill Seraphine, whom he believes betrayed him on the hunt for Frank.
Up: Barone dies of his wounds in the parking lot. In the morning, Frank flies off–but not to Vietnam–to New Orleans, where he bursts in on Carlos and Seraphine and threatens to expose them to the FBI, then backs down to make a deal: if he surrenders, they must leave Charlotte and the girls alone.
Up: In a park, he waits for the quick hit. He convinces himself that the last thing on his mind when he dies will be the one to last through eternity.
CHARLOTTE: The key lesson for Charlotte is not surrendering but taking chances.
Stasis: She is trapped in a small-town boredom with a drunken, though not unkind, husband, and no expectation of becoming a professional photographer. When she receives a windfall, she gathers the girls and the dog and drives across country.
Down: She lands in a ditch.
Up: She meets Frank. They discuss Karma.
Down: Frank has paid the mechanic to pretend her car is totaled.
Up: She travels with Frank and they become intimate. She acquires a camera and begins to hone her art–her focus mainly shadows, that which is not seen.
Down: On a visit to Ed Kingel’s yacht, she realizes that Frank isn’t the nice guy he appears to be. At the hotel, Frank proposes to her and mentions his plans for Vietnam. She says an ambiguous goodbye as he leaves her to finalize plans with Ed.
Down: Barone seizes her at Frank’s hotel door, drags her inside and finally tries to strangle her. He’s weak from fever, an infection from his hand wound, but she escapes after stabbing him with his own ice pick weapon.
At his point, she and the girls leave the narrative until the epilogue, when the girls recount the rest of their mother’s life.
BARONE: A hit man, his cold demeanor and ruthlessness are unvarying–except he loves an old song “‘Round Midnight”–a moody love song that suggests unsuspected and untested depth to his character. He is, curiously, not a bigot. His arc is virtually a downward slide to death.
Stasis: On the job, he kills the gun supplier in Carlos’ JFK hit and a woman who happened to see him.
Down: He kills the real JFK sniper in Houston but receives a hand wound that becomes infected. He hires Theodore, a black kid (Theordore, not Ted or Teddy) to drive, and sets out to kill Frank. Too late: Frank is gone from the jail, and Barone murders everyone still there. Later, a witness makes his car and his companion conspicuous.
Down: He shoots Theodore.
Down: He’s picked up by Las Vegas mob boss who assigns two goons to watch him while a committee decides about the hit on Frank.
Up: He manages to kill one guard with an ice pick and the other with a gun.
At this point, the remainder of his story is narrated through the perspectives of Charlotte and Frank respectively.