Review|The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test

Title: The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test
Author: Tom Wolfe
Publisher, Date: Picador/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969

The Acid Tests were the epoch of the psychedelic style and practically everything that as gone into it. I don’t mean merely that the Pranksters did it first, but, rather, that it all came straight out of the Acid Tests in a direct line leading to the Trips Festival of January 1966. That brought the whole thing full out in the open. [250]

Electric Kool-aid Acid Test Wolfe Cover
Source: Amazon.com

When I began reading Tom Wolfe’s chronicling of the 1960s Ken Kesey-LSD Tests, I was reminded of a linguist I took a poetry class with when I was getting my master’s degree. Him, and the once-aggravating author of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Author. If only because all three of them knew how to use the page to tell their stories.

Of course, a poet understands using the space on the page to animate the prose, but very rarely (and it’s been Wolfe and Sterne who stand out to me) do you see it in a long work of fiction. Even the punctuation moves, motivates. Or, maybe, disappointingly, it might have just been a contact high. But this book is no bummer.

Wolfe has a dazzling display of poetry in his language; he is descriptive and animated. I felt compelled by his imagery and ease in slipping into more primal streams of consciousness.

Everybody, everybody everywhere, has his own movie going, his own scenario, and everybody is acting his movie out like mad, only most people don’t know that is what they’re trapped by, their little script. Everybody looks around inside the tent and nobody says it out loud, because nobody has to. [145]

Primal, in that it is clearly a voice and tone change from the rest of the structure Wolfe is able to maintain. Without Wolfe’s steadying hand, we might as well all just be on the bus, holding the mic, and feeling Cassady‘s speedy, bumpy groove. He is our guide on this trip, and his sea legs help to steady the unsuspecting reader.

 

Ken Kesey 50 years ago from wweek.com
Source: wweek.com 50 years ago, Ken Kesey

But according to Wolfe, it was Kesey who held the group together even as a self-claimed “non-navigator”, he had impulses and followed them. He didn’t shame others for following theirs. He was firm, but mellow. And just after reading Electric Kool-aid, I feel like I know Kesey. That I caught his flow, his groove, and that’s because Wolfe did more than report The Acid Tests–he’s helped us experience them.

The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test is just the first in the list of psychedelic books I’m going to read in the near future: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Doors of Perception are just the peak in literature that surrounds and explores the sensations of that time.

It took me a moment to get into the trip, but now I’m totally on the bus. Glad it’s just metaphorical for now, I don’t know how I’d handle that whole “living out front” thing… I barely update my Facebook regularly.

If you’re looking for a safe, poetic trip, pick up Electric Kool-aid today!

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