Split: A Counterculture Childhood

Lisa Michaels, Author
Lisa Michaels, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $23 (307p) ISBN 978-0-395-83739-9
Paperback - 308 pages - 978-0-395-95788-2
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-0-547-95934-4
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In 1969, when poet Michaels was just three, her left-wing radical father was jailed for political protest. Shortly after, her already radicalized mother fully embraced the counterculture spirit, abandoning a teaching career in favor of a life on the road with her daughter and boyfriend. The trio ended up in northern California, where Michaels, her mother and stepfather settled down to a simple life in a small town and an existence permeated by her mother's anti-materialist values. Then after his release from prison, Michaels's father also moved to California, where he and his new wife maintained a strong commitment to social activism and leftist politics even as many contemporaries abandoned 1960s-style idealism for a more comfortable complacency. Michaels's perspective on normative American values is that of a self-conscious outsider, and she has a keen eye for the discrepancies between her parents' lives and those of more conventional peers. But this memoir is less about growing up radical than about how Michaels dealt with experiences common to many members of her generation: negotiating relationships with divorced parents, untangling mixed feelings about stepparents, searching for a sense of vocation. In that respect, her most significant insights stem less from what is unique in Michaels's story than from what is universal. While her discussion of counterculture sensibilities is by and large matter-of-fact and unprovocative, her exploration of the subtleties and complexities of family dynamics is unflinchingly honest and at times, breathtakingly insightful. (July)
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