In 1959, the 16-year-old author had an ineffable vision, which she here contextualizes and attempts to understand.
Ehrenreich (Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, 2009, etc.) returns with a personal chronicle, a coming-of-age story with an edge and a focus: Who am I? What does any of this mean? In 2005, a Florida hurricane destroyed most of the author’s papers in her Florida Keys home, but one surviving document was her girlhood diary (kept somewhat regularly from 1956 to 1966). She transcribed that diary and alludes to and quotes from it throughout this account of a dawning consciousness. Ehrenreich came from a line of atheists—and remains one herself (at least in any conventional sense). Throughout, she dismisses monotheism and conventional religions, though, by the end, she’s professing a sort of polytheism that acknowledges experiences that so far escape scientific detection and definition. She writes about her troubled family (her father died of Alzheimer’s, her mother of an overdose), her childhood loneliness (the fate of many a bright youngster), her girlhood decision to pursue the why of life, and her journey from solipsism to social activism in the 1960s and beyond. She discusses only briefly her two broken marriages and children. Of most interest, of course, is that 1959 experience in Lone Pine, Calif., where, after spending the night in a car, she went for a walk at dawn and saw “the world [had] flamed into life.” A talented student (co-valedictorian in high school), especially in the sciences, Ehrenreich studied chemistry and physics in college and graduate school, a career path she abandoned during the era of Vietnam and civil rights. But ever resting like a splinter in her mind: that Lone Pine experience.
A powerful, honest account of a lifelong attempt to understand that will please neither theists nor atheists.