Set in the 60s, I'll Take You There by Joyce Carol Oates, is not another chronicle of drugs, sex and rock & roll, but an intimate exploration of what happened to most of the rest of us. The sixties were a time when roles and rules evaporated - not even evaporated - sublimated. Societal structures went directly from the rigidity of ice blocks to the invisibility of water vapor. While some took the psychedelic route, others tried to understand and even impact the changes. This latter group included civil rights activists, anti-HUAC protesters, women consciousness raising groups, and ban the bomber.
But mostly, this latter group consisted of those of us who struggled to make their personal way through the uncharted wilderness. Joyce Carol Oates' nameless protagonist - she can't even find her own name - faces three personal journeys to discover her role in this world of steam and fog.
First she joins a white, Christian sorority. She, who grew up with three brothers, has a notion that she would like to have sisters. They would like homework help and to increase the house GPA. Second, she falls in love with a black graduate student in Philosophy. Finally, she drive her used VW bug across the country to see her father before he dies.
As might be expected from introspective intellectual (nerd in the current vernacular), each adventure has a sad ending, but Joyce Carol Oates would be the acclaimed writer she is if that's all she gave us. While the plot line goes from one emotional disaster to another, we can also see how this young lady grows and is destined for a successful life as a writer. (At this point the reader wonders if this is the author's most autobiographical novel.)
As many of us who came of age in the sixties, we didn't benefit from the media fantasy of free love, but we grew up stronger and lived wonderful lives based on the foundation that learned to float on air.
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