Friday, May 24, 2013

Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love

Dante is often quoted (I paraphrase) as finding heaven the hardest to write of all the sections of his Divine Comedy. I wonder if the writer Talbot had similar difficulties on certain sections of this exuberant popular history of one of my favorite cities, San Francisco during the sixties and seventies. His writing about the utopian early hippie days and an attempt at redemption in an effective stint at mayor by Diane Feinstein and a good 49ers season (I did find the section on the city’s response to the AIDs epidemic inspiring compared to the cold shoulder New York gave in the same era.), are overshadowed by the middle section. This section is the inferno. Talbot calls it Terror. Here is a city at war with itself in the dread seventies. Hard drugs take over the Haight, the Altamont disaster spoils the mood and the revolutionary movements move towards rage. These changes happened all over the country in the Nixon years but San Franscisco seemed to be hit the worse, the Red Queen section of the wonderland replete with death cults, violent revolutionaries, mad bombers, and assassinations. Talbot’s portrayal of S.L.A., the People’s Temple, and the Zebra murders are chilling and compulsory reading, but thankfully also nuanced and fresh takes on these horrific events.

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