“The Incredible True Story of the Making of the Eve of Destruction”
Author: Amy Brashear
Publisher: Soho Teen, Soho Books
Price $21.99 (Hardcover)
About a year ago I reviewed “No Saints in Kansas,” Amy Brashear’s debut young adult novel. There we had the story of Carly Fleming, a bright 17-year-old in Holcomb, Kansas, who was tutoring the dull Nancy Clutter, just before Nancy and her entire family were murdered. At first, Nancy’s boyfriend Bobby Rupp was a suspect, and Carly set out to prove him innocent, making the acquaintance along the way of an odd couple, Truman Capote and Harper Lee, out in Kansas interviewing and doing research for what would become “In Cold Blood.”
In this novel, Brashear again mixes the real and fictional and then gives the mix an extra twist.
“The Incredible True Story” purports to be a nonfiction book, by Laura Ratliff, published in 2014, about the making in Griffin Flat, Arkansas, in December 1984, of a movie based on a novella “The Eve of Destruction,” set in 1954, which is about the dropping of an atomic bomb on a small American town.
In 1984 Laura, 16, was a high school junior, a science nerd who won a radio call-in contest. She knew what MAD meant, identified the father of the atomic bomb and even knew which two isotopes are used in atom bombs. Her prize: she and a friend will get small parts in the movie to be filmed in Griffin Flat, population not much.
The location has been chosen because in fact, there are 18 ICBM sites around there, making it a prime target for a Soviet missile. (One of those silos, in Damascus, Arkansas, 1980, was the site of the dropped wrench, which actually did almost cause a nuclear explosion.) The producers refer to their movie, snarkily as “Hiroshima in the Ozarks.”
At first, this is a high school story: the smart kids, the popular kids, the jocks, all with separate sections in the cafeteria. In chemistry lab Laura is forced to partner with a dumb basketball player to keep him eligible. She resentfully does all the work.
The heroine’s life in a teen novel is rarely easy, and Laura’s is no exception. Her parents have been the focus of a major scandal since mom was caught in an affair with Dennis, an African-American man. Laura’s father, an air force officer, now lives on the base. Laura misses him terribly and though he visits seldom, he sends somewhat mysterious letters, with a good deal redacted.
The lovers quickly married, and Laura now lives with her mom, step-dad Dennis and step-brother Terence. In Griffin Flat, Arkansas, that is a load to carry.
Many of the participants in that drama are not speaking to other participants. Dennis’ ex-wife is especially unpleasant.
Despite all this stress, Laura is an unusually balanced, sensible girl and besides, her mother provides counsel via the books of Judy Blume.
“When I got my period, I was handed ‘Are You There, God, It’s Me Margaret.’ When mom felt I gawked at Christian Slater too long she handed me ‘Forever.’ When Mom and Dad were getting a divorce, she accidentally handed me ‘Tiger Eyes’ instead of ‘It’s Not the End of the World.’”
(As the reader can see, this is a kind of metafiction—a fiction within a fiction with lots of allusions to other fiction.)
For a while, “Eve of Destruction” is a “movie makers come to town” novel. We have a snotty British starlet, a handsome male lead, a director, go-fers, and since this is to be a movie about nuclear radiation, a good many make-up people. Many townies have volunteered to be extras, walking mutilated zombies after the blast.
Most of the Hollywood visitors hate Griffin Flat and can’t wait to wrap and flee, but as they are finishing the last scene, there is an enormous explosion which they think to be their special effects man overdoing it.
Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark with Don Noble.” His most recent book is Belles’ Letters 2, a collection of short fiction by Alabama women.