This classic work of “new journalism” stands out among the pack of drug lit books because it, like Fear & Loathing, is supposedly completely true. It is written like literary fiction, but it is presented as journalism. Hence, “new journalism.”
I wouldn’t go as far as one of my favorite authors, Mr. Charles Bukowski, would, who once called Mr. Wolfe “the worst American writer,” but I will say that Wolfe’s style took away from its ability to communicate a story arc.
For me, the prose was too repetitive and poetic to be engaging as an adventure. It had to be looked at as more of an experience. It may have made the book appeal to trippy hippies in the late sixties (it was released in 1967) who wanted to read it out loud, but it took away from my ability to see the manuscript in my mind’s eye. It became an exercise to read, and didn’t generate the powerful imagery it attempted, to me, as a result.
The characters are well developed, but they don’t do anything. Not quickly anyhow. It’s a very slow book. For example, in the beginning there is no rising action, in the traditional sense; it is very much just journalism, and not adventure.
As much as it is billed as an exciting tale of psychedelic madness, it reads more like a well-written journal. It was interesting and boring at the same time, like an overgrown Rolling Stone article.
In the end, I still recommend it to people interested in the hippie movement it simply because there is really nothing else quite like it. It is, however, a book that is waiting to be eclipsed. I could even see someone rewriting it. It might make a good movie, but only because the scene would likely be filled with the cosmic wondery founder in Kesey’s lair and scenes of hilarious hallucinations.
- The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe, 1965.