Sway by Zachary Lazar

 

Historical Fiction

Sway SwayZachary Lazar; Little, Brown and Company 2008WorldCat

Review is by Molly

Sway is a descriptive work focused upon what became recognized as the counter culture of sex, music, drugs, together with atypical behaviors that was prevalent in the United States during the late 1960s. Author Lazar interweaves a made-up, three branched storyline interlacing independent, separate, episodes relating to the life of ultramodern avant-garde film-maker filmmaker Kenneth Anger; the early days of the Rolling Stones and actions of The Charles Manson family.

Lazar uses recognized names of real people, and reference to authentic or reported incidents taken from the era. These incidents involving The Stones, Manson Family and Anger are interwoven to create his novel.

Bobby Beausoleil of the Manson Family is used as criterion figure to bring together these three, unrelated, groups.

The account begins in 1969 with Bobby and Charlie going from the ranch into town where they enter a dwelling. And in 1962, on Edith Grove, a dilapidated street in London is the date in the following chapter beginning with The Stones, Brian, Mick, and Keith playing music.

Chapter to chapter the novelist moves the reader in a dance from one fictionalized incident to the next fictionalized event, with all focusing around characters bearing the names of well known personages during the 1960s.

From the outset the author assures the reader, ” this is a work of fiction.” He goes on to assert that the book is an appraisal of how a hodgepodge of public lives were detached from the sphere of fact and have become a kind of contemporary folk lore.

While the players listed on the pages of the book may bear the given names of the actual people they name, their comings and goings, actions and interactions if any, have been imagined by the author and should be considered as products of that imagination.

The sway, or influence, the book is trying to elucidate is exposed as the control that results from having a camera trained on an actor and how that action causes the actor to consider himself significant and to be a star at least in his/her own mind, whether anyone ever sees the film or not is unimportant. The significance comes from simply being filmed.

Again, the sway, or influence, is also seen in the affect that Charles Manson had on the easily influenced young men and women who trailed along with him. That power continued even if it meant murder and mayhem. And finally writer Lazar presents the rock star way of life, which included the music and drugs, and the difficulty of rightness or wrongness that a person can have over the behavior of others during specific times or places which are filled with intense social renovation.

Writer Lazar set out to fictionalize and somehow interweave the dissimilar incidents which were 1. the short-term, turbulent climb and the return to relative inconsequentiality of intense filmmaker, Kenneth Anger; 2. the cyclonic rise to the top of the recording world by the Rolling Stones; and, 3. the misfortune centered around the Tate-LaBianca Murders.

A problem in writing a book in such fashion may lead to confusion for readers. Each of the individual circumstances, after being knit together in such fashion, may be viewed, by those who are unfamiliar, with the disparate stories and the non-connectedness of the incidents and may be left with a misguided understanding that somehow the three did have something to do one with the other.

The as presented on the pages of Sway, the 1960s was a period of adulation, cheeky disregard for convention, drug induced fog, insubordinate behaviors, psychedelic incidents, actions of missing rationality, at times violent, seething, disinclined and even self-righteous sneering.  Sway is meant to lay bare everything the decade represented.

Sway, per author intent, portrays the spirit of the 60s as well as the, at times, unwarranted and inexplicable violence that was part of the times. While writing itself is good, flows smoothly from one storyline to the other, and holds reader interest; I was left pondering why Lazar wanted to knit together these particular three stories in his attempt to explain any of his premise. And, I pondered why he wanted to fictionalize them to begin with.

The intent of Sway, as I view it, is to exemplify how incidents, people themselves and their actions, or power as a factor may influence others.  That seems pretty straight forward. It is by intermingling the separate elements that were separate and had no interaction with one another at all that more than a little confusion is produced. If these particular incidents were wanted to show that they did influence behaviors at that time it would have been a simple matter to simply set them down in separate chapters.

Underground filmmaker Anger is not a particularly awe-inspiring or even well known story from the 60s, however, having lived in California during the 60s I remember well the incidents of the Manson Family, the panic and repulsion shared by many, as the truth of the Tate-LaBianca murders became public and that is far more gripping than is a fictionalized anecdote produced by using the same names for the players and recounting the actual incidents as somehow linked.

I don’t know anyone who lived during the 60s, especially those of my generation, who did not know something of the Stones, you didn’t have to like them, but it was hard to not know something of them.

I remain puzzled, as to why the book written as it was. Sway: A Novel is not a bad book, and it is not a poorly written one. But, I must have missed something of the author’s intent for intermingling these unrelated people and incidents.

Befuddling read… recommended for those who like the genre

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