cover image Paradise Fever: Growing Up in the Shadow of the New Age

Paradise Fever: Growing Up in the Shadow of the New Age

Ptolemy Tompkins. William Morrow & Company, $23 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-380-97438-2

Named for the astronomer who deemed Earth to be the center of the universe, Tompkins, as related in this gripping memoir, grew up in the orbit of his own personal center of the universe--his father, Peter Tompkins, the eccentric co-author of the 1970s runaway bestseller The Secret Life of Plants. An Allied spy during WWII, Peter (who at age four had changed his name from Laurence to Peter, after Peter Pan) became an author who specialized in revealing secret knowledge. Catapulted into the national limelight with his book on plants while in his early 50s, ""New Age avatar"" Peter was a white-bearded fellow in a khaki bush jacket, an authoritative figure dedicated to proving that the impossible was really possible. According to Ptolemy, Peter ""was the one to suggest that ancient astronauts had visited the earth"" and ""that the ancient Egyptians possessed magical techniques for levitating twenty-thousand-pound rocks."" As Ptolemy recreates the fascinating world he grew up in, he also cleverly, if sometimes heavy-handedly, describes how ""sons who spent too much time in the shade of their fathers ended up not as trees but mushrooms."" His response to his father's egocentrism and to the seductiveness of his father's world was to find his own hidden, magical realm through drugs and alcohol. Tompkins's writing is vivid throughout, but particularly so in describing daily life caught in the viselike grip of addiction. His father's ""lifelong love of secrets"" apparently yielded a family with several of them, which Tompkins exposes with clear-eyed honesty and hard-won wisdom. Author tour. (Nov.)