Chasing Shadows: Memoirs of a Sixties Survivor

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9781877946752: Chasing Shadows: Memoirs of a Sixties Survivor
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CHASING SHADOWS tells the story of a young man who pays a heavy price for pursuing his own dream. When he announces that he intends to be a poet instead of a doctor, his working class family thinks he's gone crazy. They send him to psychiatrists who shoot electricity though his brain, warn him that he'll never hold a job, and confide that he will suffer from nervous breakdowns all his life. After a stint in a state mental hospital, he spends the 'sixties on the mean streets of New York City, not as a fair weather hippie with a room of his own in Scarsdale whenever he tires of the hard life, but as a fugitive from everyone, and everything, he once loved.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

Reminiscences of a time that seems golden only when seen through a beer glass. Wilcox (Uncommon Martyrs, 1991), a nice kid from the sticks, came to New York City with dreams of living the hip life in the '60s and turning out great art. To judge by this memoir, he wound up spending most of his days chasing down free drinks and cheap thrills at Manhattan dives, whose patrons he evokes with affection: ``Stanley's wife, a swollen goose egg perched on the edge of her stool, swills down oceans of vodka. She yawns, derisively, at the screwballs who love her bar. Exiles, fugitives, and chasers of shadows squeeze into Stanley's.'' It is a time of squatters' flats, ``hippie chicks,'' heroin, Bob Dylan, a time frequently measured, for Wilcox, in shot glasses. He recalls working high-building construction, always drunk (``the concrete floor of each completed deck is littered with beer cans and broken half pints of liquor''), recounts avoiding the draft by flummoxing the army psychiatrist with arguments that all people have homosexual tendencies, remembers hard days on the street, drug ripoffs, racial hatred. He has a deft touch for conjuring up the right period details, especially the inane stoned conversations that marked the era (``Hobbits got their shit together. Kind of like beats, man. Kind of like us, only better, man''). Still, although reasonably well written, the memoir carries a certain emptiness: Not much seems to have happened to Wilcox, apart from the usual bad trips and a few exceptionally nasty hangovers, and we see little self-reflection and even less self-discovery in the course of his narrative. Charles Bukowski covered this beat much better from the vantage of the West Coast; so, too, did Emmett Grogan, whose New York memoir, Ringolevio, runs rings around this book. Add this to the long been-there-done-that shelf of '60s autobiography. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

As a college student in the 1960s, Wilcox determined to experience everything?"become a cricket or an oak tree," "argue with the moon," live "life's mystery." To his working-class parents in Iowa, however, his desire to be a poet meant he must be crazy, and they sent him to psychiatric hospitals for observation, pills and shock treatments. Eventually he left Iowa and began chasing shadows, first in San Francisco and then in Manhattan, where he lived a hand-to-mouth existence on the Lower East Side with hippies, junkies, winos and various wayward girlfriends. Wilcox (Uncommon Martyrs: How the Berrigans & Friends Are Turning Swords into Plowshares) impressionistically describes his frenetic life on the streets of New York City, the characters he met there and his unsuccessful attempts to hold down odd jobs. Interspersed are harrowing accounts of his experiences in mental institutions and scathing outbursts of resentment toward his mother. In the last chapter, he comes to terms with, and almost forgives, his parents, but the end is a letdown; the heart of this funny, sensitive and disquieting book is in Wilcox's depiction of the angry, manic world of the '60s.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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