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Billie and Stevie meet at a San Francisco bus stop seven years after graduating from the same Brooklyn high school. Coincidence? That’s the question Ron Kemper’s A Coincidental Life poses as it reaches back into the past and forward into the future lives of these two main characters, whose paths cross periodically over the decades. Chronologically, their lives parallel some of the most tumultuous years in U.S. history. It’s a time of mass protests, assassinations, disillusionment, intense idealism. After that first reunion, the two men separate, then meet, then separate, then meet again (coincidentally?). “And so on,” as the writer Kurt Vonnegut, one of their favorites, puts it. Each meeting provides them and the reader with new insights and spotlights the characters’ insight and lack of insight into the swirl of the momentous events that surround them.

For those of us of a certain age, reliving the horrors of the Vietnam War, Peoples Park, the murders of JFK, MLK, RFK and the ugliness of the 1968 Democratic Convention, and so on is painful reading. The experiences of Stevie and Billie reawaken our despair and anguish as well as regenerate the vain hopes that ensuing years have flushed away. Periodically, Kemper gives us commentary by an older Stevie, an 80-year-old looking back and trying to make sense of it all. And, paradoxically his musings in the midst of all the negatives, manage to give us a way to, as the novel’s concluding poem puts it,

“within and without/

Find solace. . .”

As one reviewer wrote, A Coincidental Life is a “combination novel and memoir”, and it’s way more than worth the read.

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