PARADISE FEVER by Ptolemy Tompkins


Growing Up in the Shadow of the New Age
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 The ambivalent autobiography of the man whose father, Peter Tompkins, cowrote The Secret Life of Plants and other infamous works of the '70s. As a child influenced by his father's circle and its predilection for occult literature, the younger Tompkins (This Tree Grows Out of Hell, not reviewed) was steeped in the teachings of a path to knowledge referred to as the Akashic record. With the runaway success of The Secret Life in 1973, not only money but an ever-growing stream of unusual (i.e., weird) visitors began pouring into the Tompkins domicile. The memoir (of which a part appeared in Harper's) is best in its details, from a young person's perspective, of the brave new world Tompkins Sr. tried to create. This included bringing his lover, Betty, home as a permanent member of the household. In this element of his great plan to leave behind the ``suffocating blanket of prohibitions and inhibitions'' characteristic of modern life, his wife was relegated to a second bed in her son's room. When Betty died from cancer while Ptolemy was in his 20s, he came to realize that the adults probably didn't harbor exceptional powers after all. The last third or so of the book skips ahead to August 1995, when Tompkins, now adrift and in his 30s, visits his parents in West Virginia in order to escape New York and a heroin habit, only to fall back into heavy drinking and pill consumption. His eventual decision to seek out help and his revovery are mercifully telegraphed but not detailed. Tompkins's self-portrait presents a figure still suffering from the same millennarian fever that afflicted his dad, but who thus far has made less of his gifts than the man--buffoon or sage, take your pick--whose peculiar life and accomplishments give this memoir its primary interest. (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-380-97438-X
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Avon/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1997


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