Rice provides an informed, if surface, glimpse at the turmoil of 1967 as three young Milwaukee men ponder their future amid the escalating Vietnam War. To narrator Bob Ralston, reviewing events as he prepares for retirement, the Summer of Love in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury was irresistibly alluring. Straight-arrow John Haus enlists in the army, while Jim Gaston opts for the alternative lifestyles of a commune and ashram. Ralston’s initial enthusiastic embrace of San Francisco becomes tempered by exposure to radical ideologues. Along with the diverse paths the three friends take, Rice weaves a mosaic of Vietnam violence, radical bombings, and FBI vigilance, with side glimpses at such onetime cultural figures as Timothy Leary. Forced, in a somewhat contrived incident, to choose between the dominant culture and the counterculture, Ralston opts to follow his convictions rather than his fears. Rice’s handling of his complex subject evokes the anguished arguments of the times, while adroitly avoiding simplistic conclusions. This look at a bygone era will provide period survivors some reminiscent moments, while offering a kind of abbreviated tour to those interested in a time when things could seriously be described as “groovy.”
Robert Rice, Jr. served in the U. S. Air Force from 1966-1970. His novel, My Summer on Haight Street (Fox Point, 296 pp., $14.99, paper), deals with the so-called 1967 Summer of Love from the perspective of a young man who has arrived in San Francisco from Milwaukee in a remodeled milk truck intent on learning the meaning of life at the center of the hippie universe.
I spent that summer in balmy South Vietnam, so I was eager to read about what I’d missed. I visited Haight Street in 1961 and again in the early 1980s. I saw nothing special either time. As a wise man once said, though, timing is everything.
Robert Ralston is the main character in this novel. We are with him as he graduates from high school and when he drives west with one of his best high school friends, Jim Gaston, who leaves the scene at a Colorado commune on the way. Earlier we were with him as he said goodbye to another close friend, John Haus, known as “Hoss,” who joined the Army and then was sent to Vietnam.
The stories in the book are presented in short, alternating chapters that focus on different characters, sort of the way Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote his amazing Tarzan novels. It is a very effective technique and held this reader’s attention as I wondered how Rice would pull all the threads together. He manages to do so.
I enjoyed the book, but think my summer in Vietnam was just as big an adventure—plus, it it was free of the risks that Robert ran on Haight Street.
—David Willson – Vietnam Veterans Association Book Review
My Summer on Haight Street follows in the footsteps of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye as a story of youthful exuberance, the search for meaning and relevance, and the need for love, understanding, and companionship. Rice weaves a fascinating, but realistic tale about innocence, the desire for higher knowledge, lust, deceit, drugs, and experimentation in San Francisco during the Summer of Love 1967. His thoroughly entertaining novel underscores that people, places, and things are often not what they appear to be.
Terry Tamminen – author: Lives per Gallon; Cracking the Carbon Code; and Watercolors. Former Secretary-California EPA and internationally recognized environmentalist.
Robert Rice, Jr’s first novel is an impressive debut that juxtaposes the youthful pleasures of a promiscuous society in 1967 against the Vietnam War, casting a pall over a deeply divided nation. My Summer on Haight Street provides a unique window into a monumental time in America’s history. We get to follow a young man’s quest from Milwaukee to San Francisco where he ultimately has to decide between right and wrong when he finds himself in a life and death situation. The plot grows thicker with every chapter and the ending is deviously delicious. If you were in San Francisco in 1967, you will empathize. If you were not, you’ll learn about what you missed.
Terry Row-author: Summer Capricorn; Untarnished Reputation-winner, Best Western Fiction, Indie Excellence Awards; Phyllis Marie-winner, Best Fiction, Pinnacle Book Achievement Awards.
Although My Summer on Haight Street is a work of fiction, Robert Rice, Jr., has crafted a compelling story that is based on several real people and some real events. Robert captures the aspirations and fears of young men who elected not to go to college immediately out of high school in 1966 and 1967 and faced the prospect of being drafted and sent to Vietnam. My Summer on Haight Street validates what many have forgotten; it was a wonderful time for some, and an agonizing time for many others.
John Schliesleder – Vietnam veteran, awarded the Purple Heart.
Just finished reading your book “My Summer on Haight Street.” I am delighted to tell you I loved it. It was very difficult for me to put down. My wife even grabbed it and read it and said it was very good and entertaining and is already telling her friends about it.
The story unfolds very effectively.
It truly is a coming-of-age story.
And it is executed to perfection.
In this coming-of-age novel, a young man enters the Vietnam-era counterculture on a search for himself—and finds more than he bargained for.
During the 1967 Summer of Love, 18-year-old Bob Ralston decides that San Francisco is the place to be, even though he’s already getting his share of free love, pot, acid and the occasional Timothy Leary lecture in his Milwaukee hometown. After arriving in the city’s Haight-Ashbury epicenter, Bob moves in with roommates, including a woman who’s simultaneously a sociology professor, a card-carrying Communist notorious for her fiery anti-war speeches and a femme fatale who models a bikini for Bob before sexually ravaging him. The scene gets heavier when Bob inadvertently gets mixed up in a string of bombings and encounters the Hells Angels, the FBI and the “Weathermen Underground.”
The author regales readers with hippie spectacle and probes the conflicted, turbulent 1960s; Bob wrangles with his growing political opposition to the Vietnam War, his fear of the draft and guilt over avoiding it, and his unease at the New Left’s excesses.
One compelling subplot follows Bob’s high school buddy Hoss as he ships out to Vietnam and confronts the horrors of war when he gets lost in Viet Cong-controlled territory.
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