"Sometimes it seems like I've spent my life searching for the words that will open my childhood for you. It's always the same - even as I'm trying to use my story to knock down the wall between us, I can see myself turning into a freak, my childhood a sideshow."
Thus, Micah Perks begins the story of her struggle to make comprehensible her unorthodox childhood at her family's commune in the Adirondack wilderness. At the core of her book lie memories of her wildly eccentric father, a self-proclaimed pagan intent on demolishing conventional boundaries and morality. With little more than a run-down jeep and their newborn baby in tow, Perks' parents set out in 1963 to build a school and utopian community in the mountains. Their school quickly became known as a place to send teens with drug addictions and serious emotional problems - children Micah and her younger sister would grown up with. Their mother was a passionately moral young woman from Brooklyn; their father, a colorblind artist, a British bohemian who delighted in surprise and trickery and adventure; a man who thought nothing of dividing the commune in half and waging a simulated war or of setting everyone out on the ocean in leaky lifeboats.
This memoir combines a moving celebration of the utopian spirit and its desire for community and feedom with a lacerating critique of the consequences of those desires - consequences especially felt by the children. How could such a vision of perfection threaten a child's welfare? The sixties, for many, became a laboratory of hope and chaos, as young idealists tested the limits and possiblities of freedom. Micah Perks has cast her unflinching and precise eye on her own history and has illuminated, with breathtaking grace and clarity, not only those years of her childhood, but a wide-open moment that has marked our culture for all time.
A somewhat precious account of a run-of-the-mill bohemian childhood, by novelist Perks ("We Are Gathered Here", 1996). "The time of my childhood was the nineteen sixties," begins the author, who immediately seeks to stifle all nascent yawns by admitting, "I know what you're thinking-marijuana, free love, Woodstock and Watts and Vietnam." Her 1960s were different (in the first place, she was too young at the time for sex or drugs), but they still conform in a general way to the pattern of the era. Her family lived in a remote town in the Adirondacks, where her parents were involved in the experimental Valley Commune School, which was part commune, part halfway home for disturbed adolescents. Her mother was from Brooklyn, her father from England. Jovial and well-read, they were not hippies exactly, but they had both dropped out of society to some degree-and they certainly didn't run a very tidy ship, either. Lessons were erratic, sometimes quite advanced, and often overlooked altogether. The author was sent for some time to the much more conventional local public school, where she found herself predictably out of sorts among classmates used to the daily routine and boredom of ordinary school life. For a while the entire family was taken back to England with Dad, who settled them for a while in Devon. Back in the States a few years later, the father becomes very involved in Buddhism. Eventually, the author grows up. As an adult, Perks doesn't know what to make of her childhood or her parents. Does she resent them or love them? Was she neglected or lucky? As in all memoirs of any depth, the answers here are bound to be both yes and no, but for some reason this ambivalence seems to go farther than usual in Perks's case-to the point that her story begins to seem as pointless to the reader as it does to the author herself. (Kirkus Reviews)