PROMISES OF FREEDOM by David Grinstead


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Second-novelist Grinstead (The Earth Movers, 1980) presents fictionalized social history: the Sixties as lived by five graduates of Yale and Vassar who commingle as friends, lovers, and political or personal enemies. Phoebe Bishop, a reporter, does it all: LSD, peace marches, Vietnam, Oswald, LBJ, RFK, etc. Grinstead slickly threads her into the lives of the other protagonists, but he's a little stiff with a woman's point of view. She and Houston Bridles, an LBJ policymaker, "connect like Scottie-dog magnets" and marry before she comes to see him as the "self-centered prick" that he is. Meanwhile, Vietnam takes over the book: Mark Randolph, a Marine officer, first enters that country as an "advisor" and then stays on for the real thing. He's a standard cardboard cutout character, who by book's end, back in Washington for lunch with Phoebe, realizes "how much he was a part of a fabric of life. Whatever truths time brought, they were for the living, not the dead." Everybody here is constantly thinking big thoughts, getting "ominous news" and talking in exclamation points! Such a style works only with Adams Peabody--a professional leftist who is concerned with "the problem of the Affluent Society" and who "probably had the clearest notion of what was happening because he opposed all of it." That is, there's a satisfying satirical edge to his portrait, whereas Carole Tiddens, his exlover and the last of our protagonists, is mostly clichÇ again: radicalized by the war and influenced by a Wisconsin bomber, she's a long-term fugitive. Few surprises here. Marge Piercy's Vida (among other novels) provides a grittier portrait of these years; this attempt at the Great American Novel of the Sixties is finally too lightweight and superficial--more a collection of dramatized postcards than credible fiction.

ISBN: 517-57659-7
Publisher: Crown
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