four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
34-May-June-2008
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0

A-SwayIn this powerful novel, three interconnected stories emerge from the shadows of the 1960s counterculture. In 1962, Brian Jones, Keith Richards, and Mick Jagger are living in a squalid London apartment, struggling to master the simplest Chuck Berry song. Across the Atlantic in New York City, gay filmmaker Kenneth Anger produces underground movies charged with sinister occult symbolism and homoerotic imagery. Further west, handsome young musician Bobby Beausoleil, having walked off the set of Anger’s Lucifer Rising, joins Charles Manson and his "Family" in Los Angeles. Each story embodies the dark, new spirit of the age as the decade rushes headlong into the fulfillment of its terrible promise.
Little, Brown. 272 pages. $23.99. ISBN: 0316113093

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"The story of the ‘60s becomes—in the hands of a writer too young to have lived through that era—an intimate and finely wrought examination of a time when excitement about new ways of living often became frenzied devotion to the avatars of that newness, whether cult leaders or rock stars." Adam Mansbach

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"By highlighting the little-known links among Jones; Kenneth Anger, the notorious filmmaker behind such oddball, darkly camp creations as Kustom Kar Kommandos and Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (he is also the author of Hollywood Babylon); and Bobby Beausoleil, the would-be California rock star who became Charles Manson’s murderous yes-man, Lazar has created a powerful, infernal prism through which to view the potent, still-rippling contradictions of the late ‘60s. It’s no mean feat." Mark Rozzo

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Lazar has taken territory, the 60s, where the individual blades of grass have long been trampled into the mud by legions of literary, sociological and critical boots, and found something new. … This brilliant novel is about what’s to be found in the shadows, the most terrifying crannies of twisted souls, the darkest gleaming gems." Charles Taylor

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"One could object that the Maysles brothers have already documented the road to Altamont in Gimme Shelter, or that Lazar borrows too heavily from the mosaic approach to storytelling favored by postmodern filmmakers such as Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Amores Perros, Babel). But such complaints are forgotten as one succumbs to this richly imagined, hauntingly vivid novel, wherein everyone falls under the sway of someone or something, the culture itself appears spellbound and the pursuit of self finds ironic culmination in the loss of identity." Gregory Leon Miller

Toronto Star 3 of 5 Stars
"Primarily, the novel is a literary variation on a Love Generation theme already so well covered (Gimme Shelter, Helter Skelter, A. E. Hotchner’s Blown Away: The Rolling Stones and the Death of the Sixties) that you’ve sometimes got to wonder if there’s anyone left still believing the flower power fantasy in the first place. Still, as a kind of novelistic tone poem, Sway has a certain dark and propulsive power." Geoff Pevere

Critical Summary

Zachary Lazar, who took his title from the Keith Richards song of the same name on the Sticky Fingers album, was an infant in the closing years of the 1960s. He therefore writes from copious research rather than memory, but the novel seems to be the appropriate form for his story. Several critics expressed surprise that there could be anything new to say about the overanalyzed decade, but with the exception of the Toronto Star, they agreed that Lazar offers fresh insight into the era’s more ominous undercurrents. Critics praised his vivid, sparkling prose and his success in depicting characters already so well known, as he strips them bare of myth and legend and renders them completely human. "Lazar makes the atmosphere of a decade almost palpable," claims the Boston Globe, and readers just may forget that Sway is a work of fiction.

Cited by the Critics

Alma Cogan | Gordon Burn (1992): Award Star Whitbread Book Award. In the book the New York Times Book Review calls "the greatest novel ever about pop culture," Burn reimagines the career of real-life ‘50s pop singer Alma Cogan.