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But back to the book. Liberated but conflicted girlfriend Jackie is sharing herself with David’s nemesis Kyle, a subversive SDS ideologue whose revolutionary fervor gives her the bravado to challenge her parents’ contemptible middle-class existence during dinner one night:
“Kyle and I renounced our white skin privilege,” she blurted out during blueberry pie à la mode.
Her father’s hand froze in midair, his fork never making his mouth. “You renounced what? What kind of privilege?”
“White…skin…privilege. What you and I benefit from, socio-economic advantage because of the color of our skin.”
Her mother bowed her head and made the sign of the cross. Her father put his fork down and glared. “The only socio-economic advantage I ever enjoyed was my willingness to work the night shift at Great Northern Railroad to put myself through college. And the only socio-economic advantage you enjoy is my willingness to work sixty hours a week at a law firm to put you through college. Trust me, tuition doesn’t come with a white-skin discount.”
Undaunted by this rebuttal, Jackie follows radical Kyle cross-country to the San Francisco Bay Area, where they become involved with the violent Weathermen and Black Panthers. David Noble pursues them both, and the tension in this passionate love triangle, as well as the ideological struggle between David and Kyle, climax in tragedy and redemption at the Altamont concert itself – along with a stunning final revelation.
Dr. Barager is a kidney specialist who bills himself as “the literary doctor,” and not without justification. Although a first-time novelist, he has an accomplished style and a strong sense of how to propel a story and to create well-rounded, sympathetic characters. Barager has breathed new life and an intellectual depth into a period too often stereotyped and romanticized in fiction. In his blog about the book’s politics, the author claims to have striven for neutrality and balance; but refreshingly, he neither ridicules conservative values and traditions, nor glorifies the counterculture.
To immerse the reader even more deeply in its ‘60s zeitgeist, the book actually includes a song playlist to help set the mood while reading, featuring iconic hits from the late-sixties like “Eight Miles High,” “Sunshine of Your Love,” and one of the most unlikely chart-toppers ever, “The Ballad of the Green Berets.” (The songs can all be accessed on Barager’s website.) A short bibliography is appended as well, including such enlightening volumes about the era as Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the Sixties, by Peter Collier and David Horowitz.
“The past is never dead,” William Faulkner once wrote. “It’s not even past.” The 1960s have impacted American history probably more than any other decade of the twentieth century. The ugliness of Altamont drew a dark curtain on the utopian Age of Aquarius, but the culture clash which that era spawned still rages today, a battle for the past and future of this nation’s soul. An historical novel this may be, but Altamont Augie simultaneously manages to read like a literary classic while crackling with contemporary resonance.
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