A fast-paced, drug-fueled novel that spans the highs and lows of the latter half of the 20th century.
Growing up in 1950s St. Louis, Ned Pentecost has little idea what the next three decades will have in store for him. As he goes from being a baseball-loving kid to a young ’60s-era preacher with a new wife to a free-spirited ’70s druggie bouncing from couch to couch across the country, he adapts and thrives in the changing times. He has no shortage of girlfriends (to use the term loosely); he also has some shady acquaintances and eventually finds his way into the drug trade, where he learns how to evade the law. While on the run, he winds up for a time in Paris and then in Bogotá, Colombia, where he tries to survive on his wits and charm. In the late ’80s, however, the law catches up with him, and he must learn to navigate the equally treacherous challenges of prison. Author Cheek (Claws, 2013, etc.) weaves American history into first- and third-person narration that’s as heady as Ned’s drug-addled brain. The prose merely skims the surface of the deeper historical significance of, for example, the free love movement, the draft, corrupt politicians and the national cynicism they engendered. However, readers looking for a quick overview of America’s recent past will get not only the facts, but a bit of color as well. Cheek’s descriptions of drug trips, for example, show some of the strongest writing (“On the kitchen stove Bright’s chili was simmering, its smell trapped against the windows on the back porch. The smell was red”). However, the sex scenes suffer from awkward crudeness: “Ned kissed his way from Linda’s mouth to her breasts and then kissed his way lower until he was kissing her vagina.” To this display of affection, Linda responds, “Oh baby! Oh Ned! Oh God!,” which may make some readers cringe. Those same readers, however, will also find Ned’s adventures entertaining enough to stick with him until the end.
An enjoyable, if somewhat superficial, fictional interpretation of a psychedelic moment in American history.