cover image Notes from Nethers: Growing Up in a Sixties Commune

Notes from Nethers: Growing Up in a Sixties Commune

Sandra Eugster, . . Academy Chicago, $18.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-89733-561-4

There are iconic excesses—nude sweat-lodge ceremonies, interminable house meetings, ghastly raw-food diets, a public birthing followed by placenta-enriched soup—in the author's fraught memoir of her childhood on the titular rural Virginia commune and attached free school, founded by her mother, Carla. Psychologist Eugster was duly scarred by the countercultural chaos and flux of strangers into, and friends out of, the commune, which left her feeling “trapped in freedom,” lonely, alienated and withdrawn, “a child adrift in an adult's idealized venture.” Still, this isn't Augusten Burroughs territory. Nothing too outrageous happened to Eugster, and Carla, the book's charismatic, domineering center, also appears a responsible parent who fights epic battles to enforce a 9 p.m. bedtime. Indeed, many of the traumas that occasion Eugster's dudgeon—a snit with a schoolmate who rebuffs her, a pet accidentally run over by a communard's car—seem like ordinary growing pains. Young Sandra's sensitive, sometimes neurotic temperament often looms larger than the commune's transient, unstructured environment in explaining her intense feelings of anomie and abandonment. Eugster paints an engaging portrait of the odd Nethers lifestyle, but it's very much a child's view—an idiosyncratic perspective that alternates between scenes of idyllic beauty and small tragedies blown out of proportion. (Dec.)