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Book Review: Zachary Lazar's Sway

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The main characters in Sway are The Rolling Stones, Charles Manson disciple Bobby Beausoleil, and British filmmaker Kenneth Anger, all more or less representative of the darker side of the 1960s. Taking place during the counterculture's disastrous year of 1969, the novel's title comes from the Stones song "Sway," the chorus of which goes, "It's just that demon life/Has got me in its sway." By '69, the flower power phase was long over, and hipsters were learning (or not) to live with the demons unleashed by the wholesale rebellion against authority of all stripes, a rebellion that, for too many, included a glut of powerful drugs and their resultant paranoia.

Lazar uses the era's descent into chaos as the background and raw material for his novel, primarily focusing on Anger, whose Scorpio Rising was a seminal avant-garde work, i.e., putrid visuals, great soundtrack. The novel, written in a kind of elegant shorthand, is more than just another look at the '60s, or 1969. It uses that confused, violent year as a potent tool for examining, and playing with, the ambiguities and pitfalls of waiting for highly creative people.

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