This posthumous novel by the author of Let the Dog Drive, considers the events leading up to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy through the lens of many of the cultural figures of the mid-20th century, from Lucille Ball to Arthur Miller, engaged in various antics that skirt the line between fact and fiction.
It’s...[Bowman's] masterpiece—a sprawling, manic miracle of a book from a writer who never achieved the fame he long deserved ... It’s hard to explain the plot of Big Bang, because there really isn’t one; rather, there are dozens of plots, which Bowman juggles with an agility that’s breathtaking ... There are a hundred reasons why Big Bang shouldn’t work. Bowman has every opportunity to get carried away on tangents—early in the book, it’s easy to wonder whether this will end up as a novel-length shaggy-dog story—but he writes with a real focus, never abandoning any of the numerous plot lines that run through the book. His prose is elegant but stubbornly unshowy; he writes as if he were a documentarian, calmly reporting historical events with an assured and authoritative tone ... Bowman brings his characters to life the way only a novelist with real imagination can ... Bowman has a gift for drawing out the oddball in the celebrities he writes about, and the effect is sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes hilarious. Big Bang is a stunningly accomplished novel, both deeply American and deeply weird ... this is, after all, a work of fiction, and a vastly entertaining one at that.
If this review is beginning to seem encyclopedic in nature, it is simply mirroring the book. Big Bang resembles a baby boomer clearing house. Set between 1950 and 1963, there are moments when it seems intended to be a real-time account of the entire period. This creates a paradoxical sensation in the reading experience. Individual pages and the brief scenes zoom by; but somewhere around halfway through, this nearly 600-page book begins to feel endless. Bowman gets approximately 250 plates spinning in the air, and they mostly just keep spinning ... In all of [Bowman's] novels, there’s vitality, humor and imagination that deserve to be remembered.
Big Bang is a gripping pseudo-narrative: The structure is justified solely by the serendipity of all these events happening at once. Mr. Bowman takes what he has gathered from coincidence to construct a 'story' that pulls us onward via our fascination with the backstages of these celebrated humans, a sense of fatedness ... Mr. Bowman’s novel is broadly factual — the research implied is astounding — but with zestful imaginative leaps and crisply entertaining dialogue and description ... But Big Bang is more than brilliant mimicry. Mr. Bowman tips us early on that his themes include our struggle with the dead weight of history ... While Big Bang gets pretty baggy at times, it’s consistently involving and almost compulsively entertaining. But it’s got a bigger problem: Though tuned to the absurdity of machismo, Mr. Bowman is nonetheless magnetized by it. And quite unfortunately, most of his characters both major and minor are alpha white males.