As a life long Beatles fan, I love to read "Beatles literature", fictional stories starring the Fab Four. There are actually a pretty decent amount of books in this little unique genre, which began with Mark Shipper's "Paperback Writer" , published when John was actually still alive. I have read some really good Beatle Novels throughout the years - "Liverpool Fantasy" (which was adapted from an even better play), rock guitarist Greg Kihn's "Rubber Soul", the fabulous rock and roll field of dreams entry "John Lennon and the Mercy Street Cafe" and the recent "Beatlebone" and "Saint John Lennon", not to mention the great fictional movie "Two of Us" and many lesser self published fan fiction stories that were very entertaining. But "Once There Was A Way" tops them all. It is hands down the best novel I've ever read about the Fab Four. What I love about it is that, like the best Alternative History Novels, its divergence from reality is very organic- there is not one single event that changes history but rather a series of decisions. This approach makes for a very realistic alternate path for the Beatles. And one that , as a passionate fan, I found myself wishing had been the actual path they had taken. Bravo Bryce Zabel! Hope this become a movie, because it would make an excellent one!
Alternative history is always difficult to review. I found myself nitpicking every little incorrect fact in this book, initially. But realized in its emotionally-charged ending that none of those things mattered. It IS alternative history, after all. So anything goes. For this 60-something Beatlemaniac the author created a fabulous, mostly believe storyline. And generally captured the essence of the principles very well. All in all a beautifully written book of what could have been . . . if only . . . Leaving this reader wistfully wishing that even half of what he’d read had come true. The Beatles’ music has been - and continues to be - the soundtrack to my life. Both as a band and solo artists. Though, gosh, what I wouldn’t give for a world with 3 remaining Beatles, & 21 albums recorded. Among them some of the greatest live concerts ever performed. This book almost made me believe. If only . . .
Unfortunately, it's been too long since I read this book to remember in detail exactly WHY I didn't care for it, but I do recall that my impression was that it was not convincing, probably contained a number of inaccuracies in the non-speculative parts, failed to capture the characters of the individual Beatles believably, went off on seriously bizarre tangents in the solo years, and was in short, dull and unpleasant. That was a surprise and unexpected, since I found the author's alternate history novel on JFK more interesting and plausible. Maybe the writing style also suffered in this one. Much of it did seem dashed off, more like fan fiction. Well, your mileage may vary, but I think there must be better offerings out there. Mark Shipper's "Paperback Writer," for starters, published way back in about 1977, is actually quite funny in places since he doesn't take the subject of the Beatles' career too seriously (it's a proto-Rutles treatment), nor their fictional solo years and reunion (which is actually kinda bittersweet); plus it has silly photos.
So, the alternative history genre typically imagines a huge historical event turning out differently. What if the Nazis won WWII? Or what if the Confederacy won the Civil War? But who really wants to think about horrible things like that?!
What I love about Bryce Zabel's Once There Was a Way is that it imagines a parallel universe in which the Beatles' acrimonious disputes of the late '60s almost tore the band apart but they valued their 'brand' enough to keep it together, at least on a part-time basis for several more years. The result is entertaining, imaginative and extremely poignant - thinking of what the Fab Four might have done together if they'd had more time.
It's not always a pretty picture, but it's a very enjoyable ride!
What a joy! The challenge of an alternative history novel is to make it as rich and detailed as an actual history book - in other words, the author needs a fertile mind capable of true world-building. Zabel has that kind of mind. He clearly has encyclopedic knowledge of the seminal events and personalities of the 70s and 80s, and puts it to great use as he transports the Beatles from one iconic person/event to another. Small spoiler alert here - if you get a little thrill imagining the Beatles onstage at Woodstock, this book is for you. Some quantum physicists say that in one universe or another, all paths are taken. If that's true, than what Zabel writes here is really happening on an alternate plane - and I for one would like to visit it! This book is a triumph,
This book is a great journey into the world of "What If?". As with Zabel's previous Breakpoint novel, SURROUNDED BY ENEMIES, things that happened in the real world also happen in this book, but in completely different ways. Being a huge Beatles fan, I have often wondered if they could have worked things out by taking breaks from each other rather than disbanding. That is something we will never know, but this novels is a fascinating exploration of the possibilities.