In this third book of a planned tetralogy, Rochester (Madrone, 2014, etc.) continues the story of Nathaniel “Nate” Hawthorne Flowers, now a promising young writer, who’s almost roped into an infamous 1970s revolutionary group.
Things are going great for Nate. Not only is he back in school at the University of California, Santa Cruz, but he’s also back in the arms of Jane Chandler, his one true love. On top of that, his short story collection has just been published. At the first stop of his book tour, in Chicago, who should show up but Tim Rosencrantz, whom Nate knew in the Air Force. Tim is now with Weatherman, the bomb-planting splinter-group of the Students for a Democratic Society. He likes to blow things up and, like Lord Byron, he’s mad, bad, and dangerous to know. Nate and Jane try to distance themselves from Tim (who later surfaces with a new name, “Jude Lennine”) but he keeps hanging around, especially at Ethereal Ranch, the gang’s hippie pad in Santa Cruz. Young Crystal has a crush on Tim, and to say that he leads her wrong is a tragic understatement. This novel is as much Tim’s story as Nate and Jane’s. He’s a wonderfully drawn character—an idealistic loner who’s conflicted about his sexual orientation, and who can be manipulative and charismatic, by turns. He is, in fact, kicked out of Weatherman because, despite his loyalty, they fear that he’s a loose cannon—so he goes rogue as a (mostly) one-man operation. Meanwhile, the FBI—which Rochester sometimes portrays as Keystone Kops-inept and other times as deadly proficient—is closing in, and Nate and the others are torn between selfish fear and touching concern. Indeed, one point that Rochester makes well is that peace-and-love hippies and anarchists were arguably two sides of the same coin. The dialogue in this novel can sometimes be a bit clunky and didactic, but revolution can invite overheated posturing, after all. A preview of the next book in the series shows that Nate’s problems are far from over.
A competent and earnest historical novel.