By Gregory O’Brien (Stein and Day; 1984)
Give this one points for audacity, pivoting as it does on the resurrection of V.I. Lenin at the height of the Cold War. Composed entirely of mock news snippets from various sources, the book is peopled by actual 1980s public figures like Peter Jennings, Billy Graham, Johnny Carson and President Ronald Reagan. It’s all a bit scant overall, but does have its charms.
According to the author bio, Gregory O’Brien was a journalist in his early years, and the journalistic language of the novel’s textual and televised news reports is quite convincing. So is the behavior of President Reagan and his spokesmen, who react to the news of Lenin’s resurrection with typical hard-line aggression, at first flatly denying the occurrence and then refusing to give the (apparently) undead Lenin any credence. As for the Russians, they’re enormously excited by Lenin’s reappearance, as is much of Europe and even some Americans. The majority of the U.S. population, however, claims not to believe the resurrection is real, at least according to the poll data we’re shown.
A dark edge to the proceedings is introduced in the book’s final third, which suggests that the refurbished Lenin may have ominous plans in mind for the people of Russia, and perhaps the U.S. as well. However, a most unexpected tragedy unveiled in the final pages places these events on an entirely different, and far more dangerous, plane.
As convincing and well imagined as all this is, it feels more than a little undernourished. The conceit of relating the narrative entirely through media snippets initially seems bold and innovative, but grows tiresome before long, making one wish the author had provided some honest-to-goodness storytelling to go with all the media-speak. Much about the story is left unexplained–precisely how is Lenin revived, and how does he maintain his second life?–and the ending is left annoyingly open-ended. Some illustrations might also have been nice. In fact, this book would likely have worked well as a graphic novel, because as it is LENIN LIVES! is best viewed as an eccentric time capsule from a decade that wasn’t nearly as idyllic as so many of you like to pretend it was.