Agresti describes her childhood and well-traveled adult life during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, from her native Chicago to the Florida Keys.
Late in this memoir, the debut author attends barber college and cites the barbershop as a font of storytelling fellowship. Her prose suggests that any customer who heard her spin tales probably wished they had longer hair, so they could listen to more. She’s a fine narrator who will hold readers’ attention, although her book follows no particular thesis or mission; instead, it’s a fragmentary story of her life, with an emphasis especially on her wanderings and relationships during the counterculture-rich years of the 1960s and early ’70s. She was raised in Chicago in a large, contentious, working-class Italian-American family. Her childhood took place in a tragicomic milieu of sadistic nuns at school and nonconforming relatives at home, some of whom were sent to insane asylums. The memoir portrays the author’s mother as manipulative and paranoid; she had a fit after discovering the author’s private diary, which kept the youngster from writing for decades afterward. Agresti writes of her early, doomed marriage to a starchy WASP from the upscale side of town; all they seemed to have in common was an appetite for amphetamines. Their eventual split left the author a single parent to her daughter, Aimee. Before she had a child, she says, she sampled marijuana, hallucinogenic mushrooms, LSD, and cocaine, which she ultimately decided was an “evil” drug. However, it seems that having a daughter anchored the self-proclaimed “hippie chick” a bit more than it did her cronies. The author and Aimee bounced around Alabama (which she describes as full of bugs and racists), the Florida Keys, and even Hawaii. But fate and necessity kept bringing her back from these exotic climes to Chicago (or, as she calls it, “bummer city”). In this memoir, Agresti eschews a cultural-history take on the larger upheavals of the boomer generation, although there’s discussion of the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy, and the Rev. Martin Luther King, and the tumultuous 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, with Vietnam present around the edges. Instead, she keeps the focus on her own tight circle of friends. Her book largely skips the disco age and the Reagan years, so one will wonder whether she has more boomer tales in her repertoire.
A somewhat random but entertaining sampler of meanderings in the Age of Aquarius and beyond.