Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test - Tom Wolfe

Despite often hearing references to this book, I didn't realize what and who it was about until it came in for me at the library. Tom Wolfe, who I think of as "that guy who wrote that book about jerky attorneys," (Bonfire of the Vanieties) lived the life of a journalist before he became a novelist. In the nebulous realm between the Beats and the hippies, Wolfe wrote this book of literary journalism about Ken Kesey (author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) and his devoted band of Merry Pranksters. Wolfe traveled with the group across the country in a painted schoolbus documenting their LSD-inspired revelations. At times, the story is coherent - chronicling Kesey's life as a writer, and as a volunteer patient in a Menlo Park project studying the effect of psychoactive drugs. At other times, the story delves into the incoherent - clearly a depiction of the drug-induced state of minds of Kesey and his followers. Among the many characters in the book are Neal Cassady (the inspiration behind Kerouac's On the Road), Kerouac himself, Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary. As Kesey dodges legal trouble stemming from his arrests for possession of marijuana, his Merry Pranksters seek to live the artistic life, each day seemingly stepping further and further away from reality. While the book reads like a novel, I did find it a very interesting window into this period in American history - which I've certainly heard a great deal about. While I would be interested in reading more critiques of the book, I thought Wolfe managed to report without at all glamorizing the hedonistic world these people lived in. A wonderfully fascinating book that makes me want to read even more of the Beats, and more of Wolfe's own fiction.

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