LOOKING GOOD by Keith Maillard (Brindle & Glass), 434 pages, $24.95 paper. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Interested in a little time travel? Specifically to the late 60s? Looking Good takes you back there. Big time.
Maillard's fourth novel tracking the life and times of Southern boy John Dupre is set in Boston, where draft dodger Dupre has landed. He's taken the risk of leaving his Annex home in T.O., changing his name and working at Weasel, Boston's revolutionary newspaper.
Also on hand is Vietnam vet and drug dealer Tom Parker, John's old friend Cassandra, who's run away from some very creepy folks in California, and totally fascinating nascent feminist Pamela.
Together they drop acid, smoke unbelievable amounts of dope - of all kinds - fuck furiously and confront cops at extremely heavy demos.
Though we could hardly call him a literary heavyweight, Maillard is a chronicler in the true sene of the word. He has an extremely tight grip on his subject matter (I know, I was there), recounting the growing sectarianism of the New Left and its intensifying drug-fuelled paranoia, some of it quite justified. Anyone with memories of the political radicalism of the 60s will connect with this material.
But this is very much an American tale. The Canadian political movement did not fragment in quite the same way, and though we now have evidence that the RCMP was checking in on student agitators, Canadians were not dealing with anything as heavy as the FBI - until the War Measures Act in 1972 - or with situations where the sectarianism got so extreme that activists were, as happened in the U.S., considering offing other activists.
Maillard is particularly compelling when he takes on the left's rising interest in sexual politics. At the time the book is set, the new feminism had not yet been invented. Young thinkers like the anorexic Pamela were cooking up hundreds of completely original ideas a day (Maillard loves a good political rap), while other precursors of gay liberation, like John, were looking at the revolutionary potential of androgyny.