Larry Kramer’s (Or His Publisher’s) Brilliant Idea
What’s so brilliant about that? It’s being published as fiction. From the New York Times:
In the novel, and in conversation, Mr. Kramer criticizes historians and scholars like Stacy Schiff, Ron Chernow and Doris Kearns Goodwin for glossing over homosexuality in American history. If he had had his way, he would simply have called the book a work of history rather than fiction, he said.
“Farrar Straus said call it a novel, that way the lawyers will leave you alone,” he said. “But I believe everything in the book is true. It may look like fiction, but to me, it’s not.”
I don’t think Kramer’s claims are all that absurd. When reading with an open mind his reasons for his conclusions one gets the sense he could be right. However, there’s just not enough “there” to make a non-fiction historical claim to a great deal of what he writes. (I think there’s enough there to make the claims against Baron Von Steuben stick.)
By way of analogy, I’m known for my research that meticulously scrutinizes the claims made about religion and the American Founding. I reject the “Christian America” view. That view holds, among other things, that God was on the side of America, against the British and so directly intervened.
Two notable examples offered to prove God’s intervention include:
1. An incident where George Washington was shot at and nearly missed (and my understanding of the history is that it was, or at least Washington claimed it was, a near miss in the Pulp Fiction’s Jules and Vincent sense); and
2. As my friend John Fea tells it,
On the evening of August 29, following a day of defeat at the so-called Battle of Long Island, the American troops found themselves healing their wounds and trying to regroup. The British army was entrenched in the earth only yards away from the American fortifications on Brooklyn Heights, hoping to deal the final blow to this so-called war for independence. As nightfall came, Washington’s troops began to abandon their posts in order to parade to ferries that would take them across the East River and to the safety of Manhattan. Between 7:00 p.m. and the following morning Washington had evacuated nearly 10,000 Continental troops. The commander was aided by a dense fog that lingered over the East River long enough to shield the American ferries from the sight of the British navy.
Peter Marshall and David Manuel, the authors of a wildly popular work of providential history entitled The Light and the Glory, have argued that the fog was a sign of God’s providence. It was “the most amazing episode of divine intervention in the Revolutionary War.”
Dr. Fea notes a problem with the claim:
Was God’s providence evident in this event? American Christians certainly believed that it was, but I doubt whether many English Christians would have thought so. Who had the better insight into God’s purposes?
Indeed Christianity is a much older religion than America and America is not, according to the creed, the center of the Christian God’s concern.
But still, if one wishes to have faith that Providence sided with America for, among other things, the above mentioned reasons, I can respect that. (The Founding Fathers themselves believed Providence was on their side.) Just don’t write and publish these claims as non-fiction history.
That’s a mistake Larry Kramer’s publishers did not make.