FRANK CITY by Joe Cottonwood


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When hippiedom in the Sixties, Haight-Ashbury-style, is chronicled fictionally, it is usually napped with a cover of lessons-learned, retrospective melancholy. And that's somewhat true of this appealing novel. But Cottonwood (Famous Potatoes) also is careful not to denigrate the vibrations, auras, and spiritual optimism of the times: that it all led to bittersweet failure seems more like a bad break than moral revenge. Frank and Sarah are college sweethearts in 1963, and the day that John Kennedy is killed in Dallas is the day that they conceive a child. San Francisco quickly thereafter becomes their destination, an escape from brutality; and there they meet up with another couple, ""Moon"" and ""Star,"" who urge Frank to become ""Saint"" and Sarah to be ""Sun."" Moon and Star, Saint and Sun, then, share an apartment; they also share beds, bodies, even childbirth experiences (Sun's ""Curly John,"" Star's ""Nova""). Saint, a chem major in school, is meanwhile making LSD to support the mini-commune. And the two couples' social circle soon includes a teddy-bearish (if rank-smelling) Hells Angel; a wacked-out doper; their old dying landlady; and other human marginalia that everyone finds perfectly congenial. But when Sun's obstetrician-father shows up one day to bail them all out after a drug bust, he's got a payment to exact: he takes over legal custody of Curly John, citing bad parental environment. How Curly John is nearly retrieved--and the mischance and tragedy involved--proves to be the rock and hard place between which the hippies get squeezed. Cottonwood plays none of this excessively cute, nor as pure taste-of-ashes: the hippies are screw-ups but with the innocence of pure if bumbling souls. Sentimentality does break out now and again here, of course, but it doesn't overwhelm a basically balanced, sane performance--one of the few Sixties-counterculture novels to ring true and honest all the way through.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1981
Publisher: Delacorte