Andy Miller's Reviews > The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe
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Dec 25, 2009

it was ok

I was assigned to read this book in college(1975). I couldn't finish it, it seemed to be so....poorly written. I tried again this year as I've just reread Kesey's books and On the Road. This book focuses on a bus trip organized by Ken Kesey and driven by Neal Cassidy(the real Dean Moriaty in On the Road shortly after Kesey finished Sometimes a Great Notion--and the bus ride is basically one long acid trip.
I read it this time- more as an interesting history of compelling characters from a fascinating time, the only drawback being that it is so...poorly written.
But a compelling story made more interesting by so many characters becoming much more famous since the book was written. It bridges Neal Cassidy, think of the Beat Generation of the 50's driving to Larry McMurtrey's house(think Lonesome Dove). You meet Hunter Thompson and his articles on the Hell's Angels and then meet the Grateful Dead who started off as a house band for the Electric Kool Aid tests(LSD parties)
Interesting read but so many things bothered me. Essentially glorifies the Hell's Angels a group of people who rape and rob and ridicules a group of Unitarians whose only sin appears to be that they are too earnest in wanting peace and helping others. The description of the Merry Pranksters walking out of a Beatles concert was supposed to be a statement about crowd infatuation with the Beatles, but I couldn't help wonder if it was because Kesey couldn't stand not being the center of attention.
Wolfe's telling of how Kesey's speech to an anti war rally supports Wolfe's cynicism about anyone who tries to actually change our country, but I couldn't help that it was easy for Kesey to deceive anti war activists and then ridicule them as a wrestling injury allowed him to avoid the draft.
Anyway, the book did make me think, it was an interesting story and did evoke the times but I finished glad that Wolfe's 1960's style of writing (New Journalism) did not catch on and wishing that Kesey's LSD use and other values hadn't kept him from writing more books like Sometimes a Great Notion and One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest.
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