Vanity Fair contributing editor Rushfield (On Spec: A Novel of Young Hollywood, 2000) recounts his years at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., in the late 1980s.
The author, a Los Angeles native, attended the liberal-arts college from 1986 to 1991, and discovered early on that he only rarely had to attend classes or complete assignments. The college’s alternative-education program—loosely based around evaluations rather than distribution requirements or GPAs—attracted a variety of students from a wide range of counterculture groups, from hacky-sacking hippies to punks to postmodernists to political activists. Rushfield became a part of a much-reviled clique, the Supreme Dicks, who were almost cultish in their dogma of vegetarianism, celibacy, atonal music-making and a studied lack of interest in most other activities. The author’s college life consisted mainly of hanging out with his friends, listening to hip music, pursuing relationships with noncommittal college girls and faking his way through classes on Miami Vice and Michel Foucault. Rushfield’s circle of friends, and the politically correct, alternate-reality atmosphere of Hampshire, is great fodder for a hilarious memoir. But while Rushfield the novelist has shown a keen talent for satire, Rushfield the memoirist is much more cautious with his barbs. He gets all the band names and pop-culture references right, but offers little perspective on the shallowness of his younger self and his acquaintances. The book’s biggest problem, however, is simply a lack of interesting material. Rushfield references Bret Easton Ellis’s 1985 novel Less Than Zero early on, and this memoir shares that novel’s tendency toward static scenes and vapid, aimless dialogue. In one overlong section, several pages detail a relatively uneventful trip to a Denny’s restaurant. Rushfield’s nostalgia for his school days often overwhelms his ability to tell a compelling story.
A dull memoir of college life in the ’80s.