Sunday, October 04, 2020

Book Review: "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test"


The Electric Kool-Aid Acid TestThe Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tom Wolfe captured the zeitgeist of the 1960s psychedelic movement in "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," a whirlwind of a book with a glowing reputation that casts a looming shadow over it.

It was a relic of and for its time -- thickly insular and crammed with hard-to-track references that severely date it. The time capsule nature of the book preserves it as an untainted, free-thinking and spoken remnant of its age. There is a certain innocence and vigor for upheaval that the decades in which I've lived can't hardly relate to. And a certain momentum that seems near impossible to recapture.

By employing a stream-of-consciousness narrative, Wolfe loses as much in relatability as he gains in immediacy. Ever at war with itself while trapped in a tendency to navel-gaze with an intensity that the Instagram generation will well identify, there are as many eye-rolling passages as there are watershed moments.

Wolfe's editors seemed to have taken a hands-off approach, leaving him free and clear to venture down bizarre asides and rabbit holes. That extends to morbid repetition of some words or phrases. He uses the term DayGlo so often that it could be a drinking game resulting in alcohol poisoning.

Despite all its flaws, the book stands proudly for the way it documents the rises and falls of counterculture movements of the ages, as well as the art, music and celebrity they inspired. Pyschedelics' influence on the Grateful Dead, the Beatles and the Doors and novelist Ken Kesey stretch beyond measure, and the same is ulitmately true of the author. All survived and endured past the acid test flashpoint. 

Publisher provided review copy.

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