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A FABLE OF FATHERS AND SONS

NOVEL BLENDS FANTASTICAL ELEMENTS TO DESCRIBE A COMMON QUEST

By J. Stephen Bolhafner
Published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Sunday, October 3, 1993 Page 5D


GLIMPSES
By Lewis Shiner
331 pages, William Morrow, $21

ALTHOUGH Lewis Shiner is known primarily as a science fiction writer, his best works don't really fit that category. "Deserted Cities of the Heart," for instance, was much like the work of the Latin American magic realists. His latest book, "Glimpses," has more in common with W.P. Kinsella's "Shoeless Joe" than with Isaac Asimov or William Gibson.

The story starts in 1988 and ends in 1989, and the extraordinary events that happen are never given an explanation, either mystical or sci entific. One day Ray Shackleford, musing about a Beatles album that was never made, imagines the scene in the recording studio so completely that music starts coming out of the speakers in his stereo repair shop, music that never existed - the version of "The Long and Winding Road" that the Beatles should have recorded, instead of the remix by George Martin that appears on the album "Let It Be."

The next day, as an experiment, Ray tries to imagine the music again, this time with a tape recorder running. And captures the impossible music on tape.

If this book was simply about Ray's attempt to recreate the Beatles' "Get Back," The Doors' "Celebration of the Lizard," Brian Wilson's "Smile," and the album Jimi Hendrix would have made if he hadn't died of adrug overdose, it would be interesting, perhaps even fascinating. The reason it reminds me of "Shoeless Joe" is that the fantastical elements are brought into the service of a man's struggle to redefine his relationship with his dead father.

These strange things start happening to Ray only two weeks after his father's death. Before the book is over, he will have traveled back in time to speak with Brian Wilson in 1966, and traveled to Cozumel, Mexico to speak with the shade of his father in a fire on a beach under the tutelage of a shaman. The relationship of fathers and sons dominates the book - Ray interviews Jimi Hendrix's father, and finds important clues to Brian Wilson and Jim Morrison in their relationship with their respective fathers.

Lewis Shiner's father died in the same manner (though not in the same place) and on the same day as Ray Shackleford's father. Many of the incidental details in the book are autobiographical. In a sense, writing this book must have done for Lewis Shiner what experiencing these things did for Ray - allowed him to forge a new relationship with his father. Even without knowing that, however, one can be moved by Ray's story, for it is a nearly universal experience. Those of us who do not die young will eventually lose parents, and for most of us they will die with things left unsaid, unresolved between us.

So despite the trappings of fantasy and time travel, this book is primarily a personal story of one man's coming to grips with death and mortality and an imperfect world in which it is always to late to recapture the past. And of course, that is exactly what Ray's "gift" seems to be able to do. Which is why he needs it so desperately.

The outcome of Ray's double quests is deftly handled and satisfying. He learns some sobering truths, as well as comforting ones. Not only was I allowed to learn them along with him, but I also picked up all kinds of knowledge about rock 'n' roll history. I hesitate to call a book "important," but this may well be that, especially to those of Ray's generation who grew up on rock 'n' roll and now face middle age. I found it deeply satisfying.


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