By Bill Kohlhaase
Zachary Lazar’s entrancing second novel takes real people—Brian Jones and the Rolling Stones, underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger, Charles Manson and small-time musician Bobby Beausoleil—and imagines what went through their minds as they made their way through the peace and love era of the 1960s. We know in advance how it ends; Manson family members will paint the walls with blood and the Stones will play on at Altamont as the Hell’s Angels commit gang murder. These larger acts of violence are foreshadowed by small acts of cruelty: Beausoleil’s rude treatment of his girlfriend, the brawls at the Stones’ early gigs, the spankings a young Anger endures from his rigid father. But it’s the power struggles and acts of indifference—Beausoleil’s relation to Anger, the Stones trading girlfriends or standing by idly as Jones drowns—that color the book. The Vietnam War serves as constant background and Lazar uses it to effect, suggesting that institutional violence reflects personal conflict (and visa versa). You can’t help wonder what Lazar might have gained—or lost—if he had used fictional characters just as you can’t help but wonder if this is really how it went down. Highly recommended.
Little Brown, hardback, 259 pages, $23.99