Â Â Crossroads: 1969 (N/A)Â John W. Cassell traveled to Europe in search of America and to understand this it helps to be a Child of the 60s -though in a sense we are all Children of the 60s since the art, the music, the literature and even the politics of that era, all of it is still very much alive. In "Crossroads: 1969," Cassell' uses a bio-novel technique to recover the past - the second half the 1960s and into the 1970s - and the result is a masterful rendering of an era.
In trying to find America, through the backroads and the highways of Europe, Cassell was obviously trying to find himself as well, and this no one ever achieves, something nearing perfection, but it's the pursuit itself that makes for an exhilarating adventure; in this case, Cassell's adventure, wherein he introduces us to new landscapes and new people, and we never know, until we turn the page, who might be waiting for him around the next corner.
Cassell writes it straight and his most noticeable skill is in his ability to take us with him wherever he goes. We're with him when a friend turns into an enemy and we're with him when strangers turn into friends and we're with him when at any moment he could be arrested by the French police or the Spanish police - or the dreaded ESTABLISHMENT.
We understand his shyness toward women at a time when women were getting bolder. This took some of us off stride.
This is all about being young and the 1960s were about many things, but mostly about being young. America, during that period, was going through the symptoms of birthing, or rather, renewal. America was trying to figure out exactly what kind of nation it wanted to be. Therefore, there was that, the Establishment, and then there was the counterculture.
Like so many of us, Cassell found himself caught in the middle. Lucky for us that he turned to writing to share the excitement of a nation and a man still unfinished.
The adventure continues.
Today, the lines are much more clear-cut. You're left or you're right. Back then, we were still trying to make up our minds.
The 1960s were the defining decade of a generation. But which America was the correct one for us?
Cassell doesn't lecture or pontificate. He only observes and lets us, his readers, arrive at the conclusions. That's what we call good writing, and as so often happens in this bio-novel - great writing.Â There are so many nuggets to choose from here, but Cassell pretty much puts his finger on what the 1960s were all about when he writes: "The future was certainly ours - there was nothing but time. Yet there was not a moment to lose."
What a beautiful snapshot! Yes, we knew that at this moment the decade belonged to us, we were all in revolt, and yet we recognized that at any moment it could all be over. Vietnam was happening, after all, and the cities were burning, and everybody, it seemed, had issues, so we knew that it could not last. How long could we continue to protest when at some point we'd actually have to raise a family and earn a living? We'd have to cut our hair and most likely join a corporation - the Establishment.
One day we would have to grow up.
Cassell did grow up and what an incredible bio he developed over the years, much too long and storied to repeat here, except to note that out of all that, he enlisted in the United States Air Force, served as a New Mexico State Trooper, and also served as a district attorney - but that only touches on his many achievements.
His greatest achievement, though, as far as this reviewer is concerned, is in reminding us that once upon a time we were young. Once upon a time everything was possible.
Maybe such a time will come round again.
Bravo, John W. Cassell!
Jack Engelhard's latest novel, "The Bathsheba Deadline," is now available in paperback. Engelhard wrote the international bestselling novel "Indecent Proposal."