Most Americans enjoy talking about drugs. Some, particularly amongst the youth generation, will smirk and either drop subtle comments or openly tell you the conversation could be improved with a few micrograms of illegal substances. Others become infuriated at the very mention of a resurfacing psychedelia and will go on for hours about how they “do not want to even think or talk about it” (you might have heard about these people under a different name; hypocrites). Either way, hot topics always include taboo and one of this nation’s greatest taboos, aside from molestation in the Catholic Church, are drugs. It is only logical that writing about Ken Kesey, the guy who rode across the country in a day-glo painted school bus with a group of acid-eating adults known as “The Merry Pranksters”, and invited everyone he met back to his house to live and constantly take drugs, could not possibly go wrong.
There’s an incompleteness theorem in math which may explain why I’m skimming pages.
Don’t get me wrong, Tom Wolfe did amazing research (I mean, he willingly rode on a school bus being operated by Neal Cassady, the same guy who inspired Jack Kerouac’s amphetamine-driven novel “On The Road”). The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test contains a plethora of details pertaining to which drug-consuming intellectual knew who, who turned who else onto what, and weird coincidences only explained by fearless (immune and ready for all) journalism. Perhaps most impressively, he managed to make sense from a goggle of grown-ups with brains which might have been a little french fried toward the end. So what’s the problem?
First of all, there isn’t much of a plot. Admittedly, this is less Tom Wolfe’s fault and more so the inevitable result of following around a group of acid-heads and writing down what they do. It’s not as if Wolfe could have gathered everyone around and politely asked they begin pursing a realistic goal so his novel could have identifiable struggles and climaxes. They probably would have applauded his outspokenness and check the fridge for more electric orange juice.
My main criticism lays with the second complaint, which is that Wolfe tries too hard to explain what it’s like to trip. There are literally pages upon pages of what I refer to as “artistic gibberish”, where Wolfe somehow, in a method unbeknownst to me, translates what the Merry Pranksters are thinking and feelings while under LSD. The way I see it, when you’re reading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, you fall under one of two categories.
Category One: You have never taken psychedelics and the pseudo-stream of consciousness narration makes absolutely no sense to you, and as such, teaches you nothing about the experience and has no meaning to you.
Category Two: You have taken psychedelics and the pseudo-stream of consciousness narration makes total sense, in fact, it’s redundant, and as such, teaches you nothing about the experience and has no meaning to you.
I feel as though Tom Wolfe had an opportunity to explain something most of us have no way of personally understanding but instead of delivering got a little tired and instead provided us with a multitude of pages we’re going to skim over while we look for some semblance of a plot.