by Richard Lewis Mater
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Pub Date 04 Jan 2022 | Archive Date 24 Aug 2022
It’s 1976, and the counterculture has taken a dark turn in San Francisco. Former ‘60s revolutionary Billy Johnson, now a 27-year-old aspiring writer and small-time drug dealer, sells T-shirts at a Haight-Ashbury shop by day while reading Camus and Kerouac behind the counter. By night, he sells cocaine and Quaaludes, at bars, cafes, and clubs around town. He still drives a psychedelic-painted VW bus and wears his hair long, reflecting the ideals of his past as he faces an uncertain future.
Billy and his best friend Manny – a quick-witted rock journalist – hang out in North Beach coffee houses, hit the nightlife, pursue women, and otherwise compete in an escalating match of one-upmanship. Along the way, they interact with a colorful parade of sexually liberated artists, musicians, scene makers, and hangers-on, led by a vivid cast of female characters: Ti, brash, young and in over her head; Lannie, a secretive self-destructive beauty; Constantina, a sharp-tongued intellectual who holds more than a few secrets of her own; and Delaney, who earns big-time cash acting out sexual fantasies and fetishes for middle-aged men at a high-priced S&M club.
Sex, drugs, and medicated kicks turn to sober reality when Billy’s roommate commits suicide, leaving behind a cache of journals filled with disturbing revelations. Then, Lannie overdoses on drugs. Under suspicion because of his relationship with Lannie, Billy faces police interrogation and the scrutiny of his own conscience, forcing him to question the life he’s leading and where he’s headed.
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Average rating from 4 members
While I found the story slow, I enjoyed this trip back to an era I remember (or dont in many cases) very well. I found the concept of a father having a stranger go through his sons belongings and trusting him to send them - questionable at best, and this kind of dodged me off and on through the book. But over all, it was a good, nostalgic read.
“Beat” by Richard Lewis Mater is a captivating read about life in the late ’70s after the liberation period when certain issues are still hush-hush and unaccepted by the general public despite those who are willing to continue pushing the boundaries.
Billy is an aspiring writer and drug dealer who hangs around sexually liberated artists, only to realize things aren’t as liberated as they seem. There is still wide discontent and judgment from the general public toward those who express their sexual freedoms. Caught up in drugs and the generation-forward feeling, Billy doesn’t begin to realize how much unacceptance people face in society until his friends begin overdosing and his roommate commits suicide. Then Billy begins to question his own path in life and the choices he has made.
“Beat” is a melancholic tale full of nostalgia and suffering. Even though the liberation movement has given people the freedom to express themselves, they still suffer from real issues like drug addiction, poverty, mental illness, etc. There are those who are sexually liberated and still face judgment from the general public, who still feel like they can’t be themselves. It’s no wonder there are a lot of characters in this story who feel their lives are spiraling nowhere after a movement that gave them purpose and hope. Many of these characters are lost, trying to figure out who they are and where they see themselves in this new society.
The characters are incredibly diverse and feel realistic. Their voices and personalities really stand out, pulling the reader into the scene and making them care about the characters (even if some of them are pretty terrible). The rivalry between Billy and his friend Manny is particularly well-done and feels believable. Manny has the career and the charm with girls that Billy desires until a few certain events take place and Billy realizes Manny is wasting his talent. If Billy were to have his writer status, he would push the boundaries and write something of substance that would resonate with the public and perhaps change their close-minded perspectives. Overall, I don’t think Billy is an entirely admirable character but there are moments when he does something or says something that really resonates.
As much as I enjoyed this story and think others will, too, I personally didn’t feel like there was much of a plot. It felt like there was a lot of sex and drugs and talk about relationships and the future, but nothing that was solid. Mater is definitely making a statement with this story and I think if I were to spend a bit more time with the story and do a bit more research about San Francisco in the ’70s, I would have a better understanding. From the synopsis, I thought the suicide of Billy’s roommate would be a little more central to the story, along with Billy’s self-realization about the path he is going down in life.
Overall, the story kept me gripped from start to finish. The events taking place in Billy’s own life and that of his friends kept me invested in the tale. For people who want to know what life was like after the liberation period and how people adjusted to a different society, this is definitely a novel worth picking up. Be sure to keep a lookout for “Beat” by Richard Mater Lewis on its expected publication date of January 4th, 2022.
Thank you to NetGalley and Boulevard 55 Books for providing me with an e-arc copy of this story and the opportunity to share my honest opinion in this review.