Bridging the gaps between fact and fiction, mixing both real and imagined events, author Jerry Fishman of Davis allows readers to re-examine what took place on the morning of May 4, 1970, at Kent State University in his newly published novel, “How Nixon Taught America to do the Kent State Mambo.”
On May 4, 1970, members of the Ohio National Guard fired shots at a group of Kent State University students who were protesting the Vietnam War. Within the 13 seconds of firing, four people were dead and nine were wounded. The incident was a watershed moment in history.
As a semi-retired college English professor, Fishman has spent his life dusting off students’ mental furniture and teaching them how to swim in their own, unique imaginariums. Growing up as a hippie, with both eyes peering into the world of politics, Fishman has finally begun to stir the pot of injustice that he believes is well past its due date.
What began in 2005 as a simple glance into the Kent State massacre took Fishman on a five-year journey, ending with this novel.
“I am so unsettled by the lasting injustice that took place after May 4, 1970,” he said in a recent interview. “Not one man has stood trial. No one has taken the blame for the heavy wave of alienation that spread through American youth about war, protest and violence after that morning.
“It is and will continue to be a lasting effect until justice is served.”
The novel examines the Kent State shootings and digs deep into the heart of war and corruption.
Just before the shooting, protagonist Henry Nash and student Elise Wolz are taken into a parallel universe where they are taught that all intelligent species make war. With the newly learned concept that war is genetic, Nash and Wolz return to the university moments before the shootings begin.
By weaving in conversations, interactions and the thoughts of commanders, guards, the president and fellow students, Fishman shows the multiple sides and views of the event and the nature and actions of its participants.
“My characters really help readers see what it means to kill, and the nature of murder in our government,” Fishman said. “We have multiple characters that wrestle with the behavior of oneself and the government.”
Spinning heads and posing questions is the job of character Dirty Stanely, who functions as the reader’s eyes and ears into the the White House.
“Dirty Stanely is my favorite character,” Fishman said. “As a young man, he represents all the yearning of young people in the ’70s for a life that makes sense, and particularly for the end of a truly evil war that the United States was involved in.”
Through rich description, historical quotes and reliable characters, the novel generates a fantastical-like, historical representation of individuals longing for an answer to injustice.
“Hopefully, the novel will get people annoyed enough and people will begin to ask themselves, ‘I’ve got a normal life, what else should I be doing?’ ” Fishman said. “I myself refuse to be normal. If that means stirring my latte and sipping it quietly while ignoring the injustices of the world, then count me out.”
Calling himself a “justice junkie,” Fishman feels the need to inform. Realizing that too many people let injustice pass them by, the novel may serve as the push people need to get involved in making a change and standing up for what they believe is right, he said.
“Injustice is everywhere. Look at our current government, look at the war we’re in. It’s a different time, but it’s the same thing,” Fishman said.
” ‘Mambo’ is a roundabout way of getting at a state killing to put down dissent,” said Beatrice Russell, a friend of Fishman’s and a professor of French studies at Sacramento State University. “It is a book for everyone now living through the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, living through the ongoing torture and abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo and global moral mayhem to read.
” ‘Mambo’ challenges our beliefs in political ideologies, military power and the war urge in the human psyche.”