Sunday, February 8, 2015

Book Review: Joshua, Son of None

Book Review: 'Joshua, Son of None' by Nancy Freedman

2 / 5 Stars

'Joshua, Son of None' was first published in 1973 in hardback; this Dell paperback (237 pp) was published in August, 1974.

The book's main premise is laid out on the first page, so it's not spoiling anything to say that it involves the cloning of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

'Joshua' starts its narrative in the afternoon of November 22, 1963. Thor Bitterbaum is a young resident at Dallas's Parkland Hospital; just as he is departing his shift, a Lincoln convertible veers into the hospital's emergency room driveway.....its back seat a 'slaughterhouse'. Bitterbaum is recruited to administer emergency care to the dying President. He quickly realizes that Kennedy is beyond saving, and the unique promise that JFK held for the future of America, and the future of the entire World, is Gone. 

Then an idea forms in Thor Bitterbaum's traumatized mind: can the recent research into cell biology and embryology be leveraged for a holy and righteous cause......the cloning of JFK ?

Bitterbaum covertly samples some tissue from the dying man's tracheotomy, flash-freezes the sample, and places it in storage......and then he sets off a momentous task to find a man with the wealth, vision, and willingness to fund the cloning.

After careful deliberation, Thor BItterbaum finds a patron, the magnate Gerald Kellogg. With the aid of a surrogate mother, the infant- christened Joshua Francis Kellogg - is born. Then begins the most difficult part of the entire experiment: raising Joshua in such a manner as to duplicate all of the critical events of his donor's life, thus preparing him for his role as Savior of Mankind. These efforts dominate most of the book's middle chapters.

As Joshua reaches manhood in the early 1980s, and everyone comments on his startling resemblance to late JFK, concealing the truth of his origins become harder and harder to maintain.....and Gerald Kellogg's covert efforts to manipulate the life of his adopted son become ever more calculating and amoral. However much Thor Bitterbaum rues these actions, he finds he cannot contradict them....and the biggest subterfuge in modern history comes to its fateful conclusion.........

In 1973, the year 'Joshua' was written, JFK still was a secular saint in the consciousness of the American psyche. Accordingly, modern readers are going to have to negotiate page after page of a reverential, even worshipful, treatment of what we now know is the Mythology of Camelot; this tends to dilute the narrative of any real tension, since everything the clone does is Kind and Good. Indeed, reading 'Joshua' is simply a matter of observing a series of incidents designed to showcase the courage, fortitude, thoughtfulness, compassion, and selflessness of the reincarnated JFK.

The book's main drawback is author Freedman's regular use of extended passages of figurative prose designed to impart a kind of mystical, other-worldly Sense of Destiny to the actions of Bitterbaum and later, Joshua. The stilted, self-consciously 'poetic' wording of these passages makes them awkward and unrewarding to read.

The novel does have some near-future sf content, which is couched in decidedly optimistic terms; this is in keeping with the theme of JFK as the Man of the Future, a new paradigm for not just American, but World, governance.

Summing up, 'Joshua, Son of None' has an interesting premise, but when all is said and done, it is simply another wistful, starry-eyed examination of The New Frontier that could have been. I really can't recommend it for anyone other than those with a dedication to the sf subgenre of 'cloning' novels.

1 comment:

MPorcius said...

Sounds dreadful.

A cooler idea would have been to have the cloned JFK be a total jerk, even a dictator, because of the psychological pressure put on him to be a savior, or maybe because he wanted revenge, or because his upbringing was ever so slightly different, or whatever.

It would also be nice to have such a story which stressed that we should look after our own lives, that it is folly to expect the government or saviors of any stripe to solve our problems or give our lives meaning.