Bowman's brilliant posthumous novel, "Big Bang," has received some attention, including John Williams' admiring review in The New York Times. But so far, Bowman's kaleidoscopic epic of postwar American history has not received the major recognition it deserves.
Culminating with the John F. Kennedy assassination, "Big Bang" re-imagines the secret background of historic events from 1950-1960. An encyclopedic cast appears: J.D. Salinger, William S. Burroughs, Robert McNamara, Jacqueline Kennedy, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnez, Marilyn Monroe, Aristotle Onassis, Arthur Miller, Saul Bellow, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Lee, Howard Hunt, Richard Nixon, Joseph McCarthy, Lenny Bruce, Dick Tuck and others.
Beneath the framework of well-known events, Bowman gives a series of imagined encounters between the era's personalities. We see the young Jimi Hendrix growing up poor and abused in Seattle, Howard Hunt's CIA career before engineering the Watergate break-in, Kennedy's sexual adventures, Jackie Kennedy's recuperation on Onassis' yacht in the Mediterranean after the death of her infant son, Patrick, and Miller and Bellow together in Nevada getting "quickie" divorces.
Despite the multiple story lines and personalities, Bowman keeps tight control. The narrative momentum remains constant. The hidden first-person narrator's sardonic voice brings forth all of the surrealistic humor, horror and tragic appetites for money, sex and power that defined the mid-20th century American empire.
The book's scenes rush forward like a newsreel. Reminiscent of John Dos Passos' "USA Trilogy," and later books by Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon and Philip Roth, "Big Bang" also glows with originality.
A friend of Bowman when they were both struggling writers, Jonathan Lethem gives a revealing introduction to the book, in which he describes Bowman as a troubled, eccentric genius in the mode of Melville, Emily Dickinson and Philip K. Dick.
Bowman suffered serious injuries and amnesia when struck by a truck in 1989, not yet finished with his first book, "Let the Dog Drive." He published another novel and a biography of the band The Talking Heads before falling deeper into obscurity. Bowman died in 2012 of a cerebral hemmorrhage. Lethem in his introduction doesn't say how Little Brown happened to publish "Big Bang," one of several books Bowman was working on before his death.
However the book came into being, it's a gift to American literature.