Altamont AugieMy first book of the New Year turned out to be a very good one, a first novel  by Richard Barager called “Altamont Augie.” If you’re of the baby boomer generation the word “Altamont” might ring a bell, it being where a free concert was held that the Rolling Stones gave in December 1969 that turned from free love to free tragedy in a hurry.

I love reading historical fiction, because I enjoy learning and being entertained by a great story at the same time, and “Altamont Augie” is a great story with much to teach us about that period. I was born in 1960, so the “1960s” wasn’t something I become aware of until my political consciousness blossomed in the early 1980s. And “Altamont Augie” shows us a fascinating look at the underbelly of 1960s progressive radicalism. A who’s who of the period makes its way through the book; even Bernardine Dohrn of weather underground fame makes a cameo appearance. But what makes the 1960s cultural clash backdrop of such value is the story Barager wraps it in.

Instead of giving you my own synopsis, let me take the lazy way out and “steal” a good one from an Amazon review by Grady Harp (who’s obviously done this kind of thing before):

The story begins as a young man, Caleb Levy, is planning to write a screenplay for a film dealing with an unsolved mystery – a drowning of an unknown person called ‘Augie’ by Caleb found at the Altamont Speedway Festival attended by peaceniks at the height of the hippie era. Caleb meets his mother who doesn’t recognize him at first and slowly unravels the tale of her past – a past that weathered the changes that came about because of the Vietnam War and the dichotomy of thought and response to that event from the gamut of hostility to the government and those feeding the war effort to those who were either drafted or volunteered to go to Vietnam to fight. Ideas become characters: David Noble was a young orphaned man who had a troubled past with foster homes who meets Jackie when he enters college. Jackie is a revolutionist, anti war demonstrator who is deep into free love etc and dates a lad names Kyle Levy who is a pugilistic antiwar protestor. David feels the need to belong and rebels against the ‘commonality’ of the antiwar group and instead volunteers to join the Marines to go to Vietnam and fight for a cause in which he believes. Jackie of course loathes his decision and places space between them.

David goes off to war after a grueling experience in boot camp and ends up in Vietnam as part of the USMC infantry involved in the Khe Sanh battle debacle. While in Vietnam he bonds with a colorful group, saves a life, and loses his best friend – all the while writing to Jackie under the instruction of the boot camp drill sergeant who insists no one can survive Vietnam unless they have a connect back home. But David returns home, reconnects with Jackie, and is in place when fights with the police breakup protestors. At story’s end David, Jackie, Kyle and others gather at the Altamont Speedway for a concert that inspired the Rolling Stones ‘Gimme Shelter’. But the actual events of the Hell’s Angel’s raid and the disaster that followed are finally related to Caleb by his mother and the truth of that event alters Caleb’s life and view of himself immeasurably.

What makes the book unique is that it takes conservative ideas seriously in the dialogue of its characters, while making a critique of the 1960s counter culture. Neither side is simplistically caricatured. The passion of the two main characters and their ideals are displayed realistically, but it’s clear the author sees 1960s radicals for what they were, narcissistic idealists who thought they could turn American society upside down and create an egalitarian Utopia by force. It’s a refreshing take for those of us on the right used to the almost ubiquitous dominant liberal narrative of American culture, especially about the “1960s”.

It’s disconcerting that such a wonderful book that gives a conservative perspective on such an important time in American history is ranked #1,144,794 in books on Amazon. Conservative authors who put out work like this should get a much wider reading from conservatives who care about the culture and the truth. And if we supported great works of art like “Altamont Augie” who knows, maybe a different cultural narrative in due course could seep into the wider culture and eventually challenge the current leftist cultural hegemony we on the right continually lament. Go buy this book! You’ll be glad you did.

(As I was posting this piece I realized I had first heard of this book right here at The American Culture, a review by Lars Walker. Thanks, Lars.)