A Family Romance, a novel      Author's Note:       A Family Romance, a novel by Steven Key Meyers  


My new novel, A Family Romance, draws upon my upbringing in Washington’s Maryland suburbs as a son of a newsmagazine White House and Capitol Hill correspondent during the Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

It was fun to see Ike from the vantage point of sitting on my dad’s shoulders while, with a wave and a smile, the President shambled past into the Gettysburg Hotel; fun to be introduced at National Airport on one occasion to Richard and Pat Nixon, on another to Hubert and Muriel Humphrey. Fun to see Robert Kennedy and Ted Kennedy joshing each other at the back wall of the Senate floor, fun to see Ethel Kennedy drive her Pontiac convertible up to my school door to pick up her son, fun to see my father and Eugene McCarthy exchange cool nods at a father-son dinner. Less fun to be leaning out a window of the Washington Hotel at LBJ’s inauguration and hear the street fill with cheers for George Wallace (and jeers for Nelson Rockefeller and his bride).

Hence, few of the book’s details are entirely made up. Rather, I depend on my memory—and do so with confidence. Although at this date it might be difficult to document that at one point in the late 1950s the Capitol’s dome was Rust-Oleum orange, or that the National Air and Space Museum was housed in a Quonset hut on the Mall, so I remember them.

However, the character Pamela Manchester is made-up, as is the sub-plot concerning her. She was inspired by a Washington lawyer's telling me about having, in the 70s, a beautiful woman secretary who said she’d had a long affair with JFK and had carried Kennedy cash to West Virginia before its 1960 primary. When news of JFK’s womanizing finally made the headlines, my dad said that of course like everybody in Washington he knew of it, and had occasionally come across women who told of having affairs with JFK, but that no one thought to report on it.

As for other details, my grandmother did not possess her former husband’s World War I pistol, much less regularly “test” it by shooting it into the sky (p. 162), but a Louisville friend’s mother did just that. The treetop-level flyover during JFK’s funeral by Air Force One and a fighter escort that continued deep into the Maryland countryside occurred as written (p. 95); an unforgettable and moving sight. The description of Gus trotting after the officer at Pennsylvania Station (p. 134) arises from my observing, in the early days of the Iraq War, Army recruits waiting every morning outside the Federal Building in Louisville who, when their recruiter pulled up his car, always sprinted to him.

Do the authorities at the University of Colorado in Boulder still try to discourage students from climbing up the building walls (p. 200)? It was a popular thing to do among some of my dormmates there. The testimony of the superior sweetness of watermelons stolen from a neighbor to that of one’s own crop (p. 203) comes from the otherwise innocent lips of my late great-aunt Viola. The exchange on p. 230—“Hello, Mother?” “Who is this?”—is family lore. And straight from life are the Howard Hughes (p. 252) and “Tony Duchess” (p. 262) episodes, as are how I met the CIA’s No. 3 on East 41st Street one day (p. 276) and how Steve Rubell tripped coming down a staircase, so intently was he staring at me (p. 285).

I confess to an anachronism on p. 303: Apparently Tom Hulce never played Mozart in the Broadway production of Amadeus, but one evening in 1989 or so he did dine at Charlie's at the table next to mine and listen in on my dinner conversation.

I suppose something I'm trying to dramatize in A Family Romance is my conviction that President Kennedy’s assassination represents a pivot point of American history. Before it, the country was in the ascendant. Since, despite some hard-won advances in social justice, the trend has been downward; lately, precipitously so. My father knew both Kennedy and Johnson, and always felt that Kennedy, despite having expanded upon Eisenhower’s initial American presence in South Vietnam, was too smart and especially too skeptical of the military to have gone on to fight that evil war; that, rather, it was Lyndon Johnson’s trying to compensate for his insecurities that led to disaster. At the time I believed the USA lost its soul in fighting the Vietnam War, and I still think so, and that whether the souls of nations can be redeemed remains an open question. Certainly, before Vietnam Americans weren't at each other's throats as they are today.

Of course I have as little idea of my parents’ marriage as any other child does, even if it did endure for seventy years. But though all my mother’s friends knew that she had eloped with my father when they were both 18, it might have surprised them to know that her first serious boyfriend had been a car thief who was killed in a shootout with police. He was the son, it seems, of the owner of a chain of gas stations, and his father was so enamored of my mother that he offered to give the young couple a gas station of their own if she agreed to marry him. My father said the last words he heard the boyfriend say were of his last stolen car: “I won’t be needing this any more.” Otherwise, I know nothing, save that the police shootout might have occurred in Loveland, Colorado.


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