Safran recounts growing up on the fringes of society, raised by a mother who dropped out of college in the early 1960s to become a hippie.
The author is now a successful lawyer whose defense of a battered woman wrongly incarcerated for 20 years is the subject of the 2011 documentary Crime After Crime. Safran describes his mother's embrace of the counterculture with wry humor and a vivid eye for detail. When the Vietnam War ended in 1975, she was pregnant and unmarried. Determined to raise her child and hoping for assistance, she joined a radical lesbian commune in San Francisco. When the child turned out to be a boy, they rejected him, and she turned instead to a collective “of gay male babysitters who would watch the children of activist feminist mothers so they could take part in political protests.” While receiving regular welfare checks, Safran’s mother unsuccessfully pursued an artistic career, all while indoctrinating her son on the evils of capitalist imperialism and nuclear war. Abandoning art, she tried subsistence agriculture in Northern California. There, the author had to contend with living in sheds and shacks without indoor plumbing, frequent hunger and often being left to fend for himself. When he was 9, his mother began a four-year relationship with an alcoholic who pretended to be an exiled revolutionary. Although her lover had violent rages and was brutally abusive to both of them, she married him. Despite being intimidated by bullying from his stepfather and fellow students, Safran finally mustered the courage to confront them. With help from teachers and encouragement from a longtime family friend, he excelled in school and eventually came to reject his mother's ideological preconceptions.
A remarkable account of survival despite the odds.