cover image The Rich Man's Table

The Rich Man's Table

Scott Spencer. Knopf Publishing Group, $23 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-375-40056-8

Spencer (Endless Love; Men in Black) has imagined a quintessential 1960s folk-rock superstar, Luke Fairchild, who seems to be a cross between Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen but has a following greater than either, and scrutinizes him both as cultural phenomenon and person. He is seen through the eyes of his seldom-acknowledged son, Billy Rothschild, the offspring of a liaison with beautiful left-wing hippie Esther when both seemed the essence of their breakaway generation in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s. Now it is 30 years later: Billy is a schoolteacher still tormented by the fame and elusiveness of his father; his mother lives in the country among old friends and quietly drinks her life away. Spencer writes perceptively of the burdens of colossal success; his picture of Luke, spoiled and selfish yet with a core of sweet uncertainty that makes him a magnet to millions, is subtle and unnerving. Most impressively, his ear for rock lyrics (he reproduces many of Luke's songs as he goes along) is unerring. Billy is less convincing, and the pretense that he is doing a book on his father is a rather awkward device as an excuse for his narrative. But the joyfully romantic excesses, as well as the pain and waste, of those far-off times are beautifully evoked and sure to bring a nostalgic tear to the eye of any aging hippie. (Apr.)