“… at five that afternoon I was sitting across from the Greyhound terminal on South Polk Street, near the intersection of Highway 77 and the still-new fourlane I-20. I was reading (or pretending to read) the latest James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me.”
Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but I couldn’t help but see the parallels between Fleming’s novel and King’s novel. For one thing, on a very basic level there’s this switching of narratives going on in both stories. Both are told from the 1st person perspectives of their protagonists although King’s protagonist is a young male teacher. Both books, however, set up expectations for the readers only to divert the reader away from what a reader thought he was getting when he picked up the book. In 1962, most readers picked up the latest James Bond novel expecting yet another spy thriller. SPECTRE and Ernst Stavro Blofeld had just been introduced in the previous book Thunderball, but that novel has its own sordid history. The word “Spy” is even in the title so a reader who just picked up the book as a literary Bond fan would have undoubtedly expected a new spy thriller. Instead, readers were treated to a personal narrative about a young woman struggling for independence and
respect in her relationships with men in a time where most women were not afforded the same regard as men especially when it came to how they were expected to conduct their personal and professional lives. Needless to say, this may have been a bit ahead of its time for mainstream readers in the early 1960s. In Stephen King’s book, you have a story about time travel with one of the most infamous days in United States history as the title. Readers might expect an in depth analysis of the assassination and the historical figures involved. Well, 600 pages in and the reader spends more time with Jake teaching in a suburban High School romancing the young librarian he was set up with rather than tracking Oswald or Kennedy or engaging in any activity that might alter the the timeline. The book is more about the personal journey than the historical event that triggered the novel. King does indeed deliver on some things that readers who began reading this book for the historical fiction involved, but it’s not nearly as much as I expected. Strangely enough I actually find myself enjoying the parts of the story that are completely about the fictional characters more than the instances where the novel returns to the apparent business at hand preventing the assassination.
“I was running away. I was running away from England, from my childhood, from the winter, from a sequence of untidy, unattractive love-affairs, from the few sticks of furniture and jumble of overworn clothes that my London life had collected around me; and I was running away from drabness, fustiness, snobbery, the claustrophobia of close horizons and from my inability, although I am quite an attractive rat, to make headway in the rat-race. In fact, I was running away from almost everything except the law.”
” It was really very kind of you to have taken the trouble to write to me and I was touched by your affection for James Bond.The point is that if one is writing about a serial character one’s public comes to want more or less the same book over and over again, and it was really to stretch my writing muscles that I tried to write like a twenty-three year old girl and put forward a view of James Bond at the other end of the gun barrel so to speak.But this is a unique experiment and I have just completed the next Bond book, I think the longest yet [he doesn’t say this but he’s referring to OHMSS], in which he appears from the first page to the last.Again with many thanks for the kindly thought behind your letter.”