David Noble is a tough-nosed kid from the hard tracks of life, his “rearing” to be found out soon enough in the book. He meets Jackie Lundquist, a daughter of a stable middle class family in the Twin Cities, while both attend the University of Minnesota. They fall in love, but as ultimately happens, cultures clash. David goes off to enlist in the Marines and ships out to Vietnam; Jackie becomes entangled in the war at home, joining SDS and becoming part of the New Left.
David’s daily letters to Jackie during his two-year tour go unanswered. He fights through the siege of Khe Sahn, learning about war firsthand, and when he finally returns home he joins the campus New Right’s Young Americans for Freedom. Jackie, meanwhile, has become further entrenched in the radicalism of the campus Left, shacking up with an SDS leader, experimenting with drugs. She is the epitome of a flower child. The two could not be more diametrically opposed. But again, love endures and the flame is rekindled.
From this point, things spin rapidly out of control. The ’68 Democratic Convention, the radicalizing and hardening of the leftist movement from peaceful campus protests and free love to the Black Panthers and calls of violence. The relationship becomes strained, though the passion never seems to subside. Then they join together in San Francisco and travel to the Altamont Speedway, the scene where the tragic Rolling Stones concert of December of 1969 plays out and as the decade comes to a fittingly tragic close.
I come from a generation that will forever see the ’60s as that dark layer of clouds, a shroud over us, suffocating and unmovable. Go back to whence you came and leave us forever. But of course, “it” can’t go back, it is here, it will always be here. And one learns that just as the “radicals” or more apt, the destroyers, from that decade, who never “grew up” suffer from false illusions of glory and are trapped in their minds, so too, to a large extent, are those on the side that sees the ’60s as nothing but evil — the side I have been trapped in.
Richard Barager shows us a way out of the trap. And that way is ultimately through the things that transcend everyday lives, politics, and war. Those are things like love and honor; tragedy and redemption. Great art can inspire us in ways unspeakable and surely, at least for this writer, unprintable. A review needs to be written because this book deserves it. The moments, however, are rare when you gaze upon a work of art, listen to a great piece of music, or in this case, upon completion, set a book down and say “wow.”
This is one of them.