In this coming-of-age novel, a young man enters the Vietnam-era counterculture on a search for himself—and finds more than he bargained for.
During the 1967 Summer of Love, 18-year-old Bob Ralston decides that San Francisco is the place to be, even though he’s already getting his share of free love, pot, acid and the occasional Timothy Leary lecture in his Milwaukee hometown. There are more of those things in California, however, along with Doors concerts, anti-establishment posturing and stoned ruminations on the cosmos (“I wondered if we were all inter-related and our individualism was nothing more than a hindrance to universal order”). After arriving in the city’s Haight-Ashbury epicenter, Bob moves in with roommates, including a woman who’s simultaneously a sociology professor, a card-carrying Communist notorious for her fiery anti-war speeches and a femme fatale who models a bikini for Bob before sexually ravaging him. The scene gets heavier when Bob inadvertently gets mixed up in a string of bombings and encounters the Hells Angels, the FBI and the “Weathermen Underground.” The author regales readers with hippie spectacle and probes the conflicted, turbulent 1960s; Bob wrangles with his growing political opposition to the Vietnam War, his fear of the draft and guilt over avoiding it, and his unease at the New Left’s excesses. However, Rice’s portrait of the times also includes improbable elements such as anarchist hit squads and a parade of women constantly importuning Bob for sex—and even barging in on him in the shower. One compelling subplot follows Bob’s high school buddy Hoss as he ships out to Vietnam and confronts the horrors of war when he gets lost in Viet Cong-controlled territory. Unfortunately, Hoss’ story takes a back seat to Bob’s relatively callow sex romps, muzzy soul-searching and cartoonish intrigues.
An unconvincing melodrama of the Age of Aquarius.