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The Cold Last Swim by Junior Burke
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The Cold Last Swim

by Junior Burke

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"The genesis of this novel of alternate history is a December 1954 photograph taken during a live television performance of the General Electric Theater. In the photo, young James Dean is brandishing a pistol at fellow actor (and weekly show-host) Ronald Reagan. The juxtaposition is startling. Two cultural icons, one who would be dead within a year, and even though having had only one feature film released in his lifetime, would be immortalized as a symbol of cool rebellion. The other, in a little over a quarter century, would become leader of the free world, the standard bearer of traditional and even fundamentalist values. Although the story is largely from Jimmy's viewpoint, Reagan is not meant to be seen as a villain; nor is Jimmy a hero. In many ways, THE COLD LAST SWIM is classical Greek drama: Reagan's Apollo, god of light, warmth, and temperance; Jimmy's Bacchus, license, alienation, and impulse. One can clearly picture each in fifties America, Reagan firmly established among the open freeways and unblemished skies of sunny Los Angeles; Jimmy, emerging from the black and white shadows of a rainy New York street. Alternate history demands that at least one significant event be changed yet the narrative that is affected still could have happened in the wake of that invented occurrence. In THE COLD LAST SWIM, quite a number of events are nuanced, but all could have plausibly unfolded in its own parallel universe. While a period piece, The Cold Last Swim is wholly contemporary, as in it, the seeds are being sown for the cultural gulf that divides America today. The elements are inherently cinematic, and with the twelve-year frame of the narrative and a tightly enmeshed ensemble, it could ultimately serve as a container for a long form television series. The 1954 to 1966 span is quite purposeful. When we look back at the 1950s there is an elegance which, by 1966, was still apparent. What is termed "the sixties" is most often the street violence, rock festivals and war-torn Vietnam images that flooded the final few years of that decade. By 1966, demonstrations remained largely peaceful, the Woodstock nation was not in evidence and the Vietnam War had yet to be substantially escalated. In other words, the fuse had been lit but the explosion was still to take place"--… (more)
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