Sprawling generational novel that takes the flower children of the beautiful 1960s through their paces and deposits them in the ugly world of the Trump-ian teens.
All things, including the title of novelist/music writer Shiner’s (Dark Tangos, 2011, etc.) latest, begin and end with Bob Dylan, author of lyrics that “were the secret handshake, the tap on the shoulder, the beckoning hand from the alleyway.” Jeff Cole, dutiful child of the middle class, is on a scholarship at a fancy-lad school in New York, where he meets a young Mexican, “good-looking and confident,” named Alex Montoya, his family blessed with a vastly larger bank account. “Once you get past a certain point,” Alex shrugs, “being rich is a full-time job all by itself.” Alex knows all there is to know about music and Cole, nothing—so, there in 1965, Alex takes it on himself to induct Cole by means of, yes, “Highway 61 Revisited,” or, as he calls it, “Lesson One.” Cole learns—and does he. Soon he’s playing before adoring crowds, scoring big with the ladies, hitting the road for the Golden Gate and acid sessions with the Dead and the Doors and the Airplane among “runaways, acid-heads and straights, the seekers, the believers, the gawkers, all responding to a desire that didn’t have a name yet." Over hundreds of winningly spun pages, Alex, Cole, and a host of supporting players seek that desire, finding themselves variously here at Woodstock, there on a Virginia commune, there at Berkeley and the Sunset Strip, then later seeking meaning in middle-class, tenured lives of scaled-down dreams that grow large again once the 2016 election cycle looms and the good old days look better and better. Though the book is a touch too long, it holds its energy without flagging, and every note sounds true.
If James Michener were hipper on music—and everyone from Dylan to Country Joe to Jerry and Janis shows up in Shiner’s pages—he might have written this instead of The Drifters. Reality-tinged nostalgia for those who were there—or wish they were.