Jack Engelhard,
The Days of the Bitter End
(ComteQ, 2001)

"Where were you when it happened?" We've all been asked this question about many huge tragedies, but one of the biggest is when President Kennedy was assassinated. Lee Harvey Oswald, the grassy knoll, the presidential cavalcade of cars ... all of these images are forever imbedded in our nation's memory. Jack Engelhard, however, gives us a fresh perspective on this occurrence by putting it in a different light entirely. What happens to you when you imitate President Kennedy for a living?

Cliff Harris rises to stardom in the golden years between World War II and Vietnam. He bears an uncanny resemblance to John F. Kennedy and can imitate him so well that even Jackie is shocked. His small-town Philadelphia beginnings eventually lead him to The Ed Sullivan Show and many sold-out performances in Greenwich Village. The Bitter End, a real comedy club at which Engelhard was the doorman for two summers, provides the perfect backdrop for pop historical fiction at its finest. We witness a snapshot of the life of Lenny Bruce firsthand. We meet Ben Jaffa, a holocaust survivor who has an equal part in the story with Cliff Harris. He is, by his own definition, "not a patriot, but grateful."

Engelhard's writing is superb, and he offers up a slice of 1960s life that is vibrant and moving. Although the story revolves around the rise to and fall from stardom by Cliff Harris, it is skillfully crafted so as not to be depressing, but rather quite witty and intriguing. The biggest lesson I found myself taking away from this book was that an era and the tragedy that defines that era can carry resounding effects for decades to come.

- Rambles
written by Carie Morrison
published 24 May 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.