A somewhat precious account of a run-of-the-mill bohemian childhood, by novelist Perks (We Are Gathered Here, 1996).
“The time of my childhood was the nineteen sixties,” begins the author, who immediately seeks to stifle all nascent yawns by admitting, “I know what you’re thinking—marijuana, free love, Woodstock and Watts and Vietnam.” Her 1960s were different (in the first place, she was too young at the time for sex or drugs), but they still conform in a general way to the pattern of the era. Her family lived in a remote town in the Adirondacks, where her parents were involved in the experimental Valley Commune School, which was part commune, part halfway home for disturbed adolescents. Her mother was from Brooklyn, her father from England. Jovial and well-read, they were not hippies exactly, but they had both dropped out of society to some degree—and they certainly didn’t run a very tidy ship, either. Lessons were erratic, sometimes quite advanced, and often overlooked altogether. The author was sent for some time to the much more conventional local public school, where she found herself predictably out of sorts among classmates used to the daily routine and boredom of ordinary school life. For a while the entire family was taken back to England with Dad, who settled them for a while in Devon. Back in the States a few years later, the father becomes very involved in Buddhism. Eventually, the author grows up. As an adult, Perks doesn’t know what to make of her childhood or her parents. Does she resent them or love them? Was she neglected or lucky?
As in all memoirs of any depth, the answers here are bound to be both yes and no, but for some reason this ambivalence seems to go farther than usual in Perks’s case—to the point that her story begins to seem as pointless to the reader as it does to the author herself.