by Gerard Jones
Published by Monkfish Book Publishing Company
357 pages, 2004
Summer of Love
Reviewed by Linda L. Richards
Hunter S. Thompson was, arguably, one of the most starkly original authors to emerge from the middle of the 20th century. What made -- and, truly, continues to make -- Thompson's writing so compelling is the balance between prose that seems to come straight from the stream of his consciousness with passages so brilliant and so well stated, it makes what has gone before feel carefully crafted. The result is that you never truly know where you are, where you stand. Is the riffing you felt just a paragraph ago part of some artful plan? A craftsmanship so thorough it feels complete? Then you read further and come to encounter Thompson's raw psyche yet again. Or even his raw psyche fueled by drugs. Naw, you think, all is as it seemed before. Until the cycle begins again.
Now, understand: it's not that I'm comparing the work of Gerard Jones with that of Hunter S. One is a household name. The other is... not. One has made a career and a life out of challenging the establishment and bucking the system. The other has... not. And yet. In reading Ginny Good the feeling of drug-fueled otherworldliness often creeps in. Where am I standing? A reader might ask. Am I in the middle of a well crafted fiction, or the drug-aided recollections of an aging hippy? Or even simply the skillfully told biography of a talented writer. And still, having read and enjoyed Ginny Good thoroughly and scanned the material that arrived with it carefully, I'm still somewhat in the dark.
Jones is the creator of a popular -- and cheerfully demented -- Web site called Everyone Who's Anyone in Trade Publishing, so it would be a very simple matter for me to go to the site, ferret out his e-mail address and just ask him: What part of Ginny Good is fiction? What part fact? He might even answer me. But that would seem to me to bend my pact as a reviewer. On one level, then, I've chosen to take the dark sadness that I found in some parts of Ginny Good and attribute them to the author's skill rather than things he had to endure. It seems a happier bet. You'll make that decision for yourself when you get there. But, unless you lived through 1960s San Francisco from the fringe spot from which Jones writes, it is possible you'll leave Ginny Good with a different view of the Summer of Love than the one you got there with.
The first few lines of Ginny Good set the tone:
I'm using everyone's real name. They can all sue me. I hope they do. I could use the excitement.
Jones brings a sort of careless insouciance to Ginny Good. An early hippie devil-may-care ef-em-if-they-can't-take-a-joke attitude that pretends to mask deeper feelings. Pretends, of course, because it's clear that Jones cares deeply about everything that befalls him and Ginny and the others we meet in Ginny Good. And he wants us to know he cares, but he wants us to find our own way to that conclusion. It's this intelligent respect for the intelligence of his reader that makes Ginny Good sing. That, of course, and the simple fact that most of the book is set in a place and era that holds eternal fascination for a large part of the population: the social revolution of the early 1960s.
Before we even meet the title's Ginny, we're introduced to Elliot, Jones' closest high school friend.
I made him feel superior. He liked that. He made me laugh. I liked that. We got to be friends. That was all there was to it. We stayed friends forever -- or for however long forever might have been back then. I don't know the meaning of words anymore. Forever seems about right.
Jones' prose is deceptively simple. It seems artless. Witness here, two years after Jones and Elliot meet and the two are in a nightclub celebrating New Years and they come across Ginny Good:
She had on a tight black dress, a black lace shawl and a string of pearls, but she still managed to look disheveled, somehow -- like she'd come there fresh from riding a horse bareback along the edge of an ocean somewhere. Her shawl touched my knee. When she talked she got her whole tiny, tough little body into it. The words tinkled like she was playing them on a piano.
In those few sentences Jones conveys the essential magic of Ginny and when both Elliot and Jones fall in love with her -- albeit in quite different ways -- the reader is unsurprised.
On one level the book is about Ginny and her relationship with Jones. It's also about Elliot and his relationship with both of them. More essentially, Ginny Good is about a brief moment in time that it's perhaps better to look back on than it was to experience.
Then it was the summer of 1967, the Summer of Love. Scott McKenzie sang his dork song about how everybody ought to go to San Francisco and wear some fucking flowers in their hair. It was far out. It was groovy. It was over.
Ginny Good is an excruciating coming of age at a time when the world was falling apart. Masterfully, Jones touches on the politics, the people and the way it felt to breathe the air of the Haight. After a while you get the idea you'd follow him anywhere. | August 2004
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of the Madeline Carter novels: Mad Money, The Next Ex and Calculated Loss.