Nicolosi's IN THE FULLNESS OF TIME may be a dangerous book. What do I mean by this? One of my own criteria for appraising fictional literature is its apparent reality, its believability if you will. As the poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge expressed it, if a writer could weave "human interest and a semblance of truth" into his narrative, the reader would suspend judgment concerning the implausibility of the story. Nicolosi has concocted a fiction so entertaining, so believable, so historically true in its appearance that the reader completely forgets that he is reading a novel rather than a history. The danger in this book lies in the fact that, having finished it, the reader may too easily fall into the belief that he has studied a real biographical account of Warren G. Harding!
Adding to the possible confusion of fiction with fact is that some of the characters and actions in Nicolosi's book do derive from historical reality, a case in point being the character of William Estabrook Chancellor, a racist historian who did indeed write a biographical portrait of Warren G. Harding "proving" that he carried Black blood in his veins. The perhaps unintended challenge for the reader is to determine where history stops and fiction begins between the covers of this novel.
In the phraseology of literary analysis, the entire novel is written in a first-person, limited point of view. Translating that into somewhat more comprehensible language, it is as though the reader is sitting comfortably beside the 70 year old narrator, each sipping a generous glass of brandy and feeling the warmth of a gentle fire in the hearth, listening while he recounts memories of 45 years ago. All the reader learns is what the narrator recalls and chooses to say. There is no omniscient presence to offer additional explanation, background, or interpretation. This technique is not necessarily uncommon in short stories, but this may be the first full-length novel I've ever read that uses it--and uses it very effectively, I might add.
The narrator proves to be a superbly entertaining storyteller. Outcomes of situations are never obvious, infusing events with a bit of mystery and motivating the reader to plunge onward to learn what his host will reveal next. Still, one "memory" is so vivid and powerfully recited that it caused me to put down the book for an evening simply to recover from the emotional turmoil it invoked. Now, that's realism in writing! The memory, by the way, is the narrator's encounter with a barber who is also a fervent participant in the Ku Klux Klan and whose xenophobia toward non-whites is so extreme that remaining in his company for any length of time, even vicariously, is sickeningly disconcerting.
As engrossing as the story is, I cannot say that the book is without flaw. The author uses the assassination of President Kennedy as the trigger that set off the narrator's flow of memories to which we are now privy. From time to time, the narrator draws similarities, if not exact parallels, between the deaths of Kennedy and Harding or between their respective First Ladies. To my mind, this is not a particularly effective technique simply because I cannot see any meaningful similarities, much less parallels, between the Harding and the Kennedy presidencies or personalities. Here, Coleridge's "willing suspension of disbelief" becomes far less willing. Had the author used the approaching visit of Mitzy von Leukel Blaine as the trigger, I would have been far more willing to accept it. Perhaps the problem is that the time when the Kennedys can be used in a work of fiction still lies in the future for those of us who experienced JFK's presidency and murder first hand as it were.
While most of Nicolosi's writing is stylistically and grammatically exemplary, there are still quite a few pages for which he desperately needed a more competent proofreader: The substandard spelling "alright" appears on pages 80, 402 and 414. Twice we find the phrase "terra incognito" rather than the correct "terra incognita." Page 326 speaks of "anecdotes to poison" rather than "antidotes." A French sentence on page 331 incredibly includes the English pronoun "I" rather than the French "moi." The author's problems with French continue on page 334 with "alors" being misspelled "alores." Page 338 presents us with yet another Latin problem in the phrase "sin qua non" which, of course, should be "sine qua non." Back to English again, page 358 substitutes "extant" for "extent," while page 372 hosts a sentence using "sprung" for "sprang." A sentence on page 399 is unintentionally hilarious when the verb "trawls" unbelievably appears as a synonym for the noun "trowel"! But perchance we should save the best misstatement for the last example: On page 481 we are told that "Mr. Harding bore two known children...." Now, in either fact or fantasy, Mr. Harding may have beget or fathered two known children (or a dozen for that matter), but I sincerely doubt that he was biologically capable of "bearing" any at all.
Suspecting that I've rambled on quite long enough, let me say that, in brief, I find Nicolosi's novel readable, entertaining, and even sadly evocative of old memories and of the inexorable passage of time. Any book that we read requires an expenditure in time and effort, and I believe that the novel is fully worth that expenditure and that it will repay the reader in the form of several days of captivating narrative. Were it not for the misspellings and malapropisms that sailed past the proofreaders, I'd likely consider it worth five Amazon stars rather than the four that I've used. Enjoy the read--but remind yourself that it is fiction!
P.S. I just can't leave without one quoting one passage from the book, having found it unusually profound for anyone who thinks about past events and past lives: "Whenever I have stood before the dead, I have wondered what secrets and lost histories they bear away with them into their graves, into eternity." (325)