By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 29, 2015
In 1993, a science fiction writer from Texas named Lewis Shiner published his fourth novel, Glimpses. I read part of it but never finished, for reasons that remain unclear. Perhaps I lost interest; perhaps I never got my hands on the novel itself but instead had an excerpt published in a science fiction magazine.
At any rate, this summer, I saw Love and Mercy, the biopic about the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, and it reminded me of Glimpses, or of whatever part of it that I’d read. I’d seen a copy of the book in a Raleigh second-hand store, so on my next visit there, I picked it up. (I also grabbed a copy of Frontera, Shiner’s first book, from 1984, which I will write about sometime in the next few months.)
Glimpses is a heavily autobiographical novel, according to the autobiographical essay on Shiner’s website. The story opens in late 1989, shortly after the narrator’s father has died in a diving accident off the Mexican island of Cozumel. Ray Shackleford is a 37-year-old stereo repairman trapped in a loveless marriage to a teacher; he is semi-functional despite having a major alcohol dependency. A college dropout and an only child, Shackleford has always loved music and never got along with his father.
But this otherwise ordinary man discovers an extraordinary talent. He’s at work, trying to finish mourning his dad, an anthropology professor who had only recently retired from a globe-hopping career, and trying to stop mooning over Alex, his high-school girlfriend, when something strange happens as Let It Be plays in the background of his workshop:
There’s magic, see, and there’s science. Science is what I learned at DeVry and it bought me this nice two story house off 290 in East Austin. Magic says if maybe the Beatles could have hacked it then maybe Alex and me could have hacked it.
If the Beatles had hacked it, “The Long and Winding Road” would have sounded a lot different. Paul always hated what [producer Phil] Spector did to it, wanted it to be a simple piano ballad. John might have written a new middle eight for it, something with an edge to cut the syrupy romanticism. George could have played some of the string parts on the guitar, and Ringo could have punched the thing up, given it more of a push.
It could have happened. Say Paul had realized the movie was a stupid idea. Say they’d given up on recording at Apple and gone back to Abbey Road where they belonged, let George Martin actually produce instead of sitting around listening to them bicker. I’d seen enough pictures of the studio. I could see it in my head.…