"If Angels Fight" by Richard Bowes

image Richard Bowes, whose story "If Angels Fight" appears in the February 2008 issue of F&SF, said in an interview that the story was inspired by a trip he and his sister made to the old neighborhood. "It brought back a lot of memories including the politicians. I knew kids whose fathers were in politics. But politics was almost like popular entertainment–everyone knew about it, talked about it, rated politicians," Bowes said. "And the Kennedy family was a constant presence. JFK’s mother came from there. It was where her father, ‘Honey Fitzgerald’ had his mansion, until it burned down one night. Her relatives still lived in the neighborhood. The story’s roots were my trying to give a feeling for that lost, almost mythic moment. John F. Kennedy himself makes and appearance as an impatient young senator who’d just had to attend an aging relative’s birthday party."

"If Angels Fight" starts with the unnamed narrator being asked by Carol Bannon, the scion of a Boston political dynasty to help her find her long lost brother Mark who was a childhood friend of the narrator. "The narrator has helped the family with this several times over the years. The difficulty tracing Mark Bannon is that to all intents and purposes he died some years before," Bowes said. "The rest of the story is the narrators search in the byways of intrigue and politics and his memories of Irish Boston in the 1950’s when politics was a sport, a hobby, a way of life."

The story–like Gatsby’s or Sherlock Holmes’–is a narrator describing to us a character who fascinates him and whom he tries to fully understand, Bowes said. "I knew several kids whose fathers were in politics. Or I should say whose families were in politics, because the political life tended to engulf the entire family. A couple of the kids resented it, most just accepted it as a way of life," he said. "Thus it is with Mark Bannon, my protagonist whose father is the Speaker of the Massachusetts House and an expert politician. Mark is mainly an unexceptional kid, some would say dull normal. But there are flashes of something beyond brilliance."

Many of the incidents, from the appearance of JFK to the youthful escapades of climbing on the courthouse ledge, the rescue on the icy covered river, the episode in the half built houses on the site of the old Honey Fitz mansion were based pretty solidly on real events, or at least on Bowes’s memory of them, and that even some of the modern day scenes set in New York City, like the description of that 14th Street bar on a Saturday afternoon and the robbery at S. Klein’s On the Square that follows, are based on real incidents or at least real anecdotes, Bowes said. As a result, the story took much longer and was much harder to write than he had anticipated. "I think it was the problem of integrating Markey Bannon in his two aspects–body and soul into one tale," he said. "I hope I’ve succeeded. I owe a lot to the members of the 8th of February writing workshop to which I belong–Bob Howe, Andrea Kail, Barbara Krasnoff–and my friends Chris Barzak and especially Paul Witcover for their help."

As part of his research for the story, Bowes reread (or, in this case listened to on CD) Shakespeare’s The Arkangel Richard the Second, especially the scene of his return to England. "I loved Shakespeare’s history plays when I was a kid–maybe because the characters are simpler than in the later plays and this one seemed to speak about the Bannon family though I can’t entirely tell you why or how," he said. "It’s where I got my title, ‘then, if angels fight/Weak men must fall.’"

"If Angels Fight" will be a chapter in a mosaic novel Bowes is working on which will be called Dust Devil on Quiet Street. His 9/11 story, "There’s a Hole in the City," will be the opening chapter in the novel.

This is Bowes’s fourteenth appearance in F&SF, he notes. "I’m really happy you took this story," he said, "and that you have another one in the same series: ‘I Needs Must Part the Policeman Said,’ forthcoming."