VENCEREMOS
By Howard Waxman
Maine Authors Publishing, 2011
312 pages, $17.95
ISBN 978-1-936447-60-2
 
The counter-culture movement of the 1960s and 70s spawned anti-war activism, free love, rampant drug use, revolutionary fervor, and “gave a lot of spoiled kids another chance to play at being rebels,” as is clearly revealed in Howard Waxman’s brilliant debut novel, VENCEREMOS.

Waxman is an award-winning playwright, now living in Bath. This book is a masterpiece of vivid storytelling as he colorfully describes the Flower Power age through the eyes and actions of a young Vietnam veteran who deserts from the U.S. Army, flees to Canada to avoid prosecution and unwittingly becomes involved in an insidious plot to commit murder.

Waxman’s portrayal of hippies, communes, rich kids pretending to be activists, alongside dedicated bombers, hard-core Weathermen, communists, socialists, informers and government agents is gripping for it exposes the failure of youthful naiveté and idealism to overthrow political reality.

Deserter Jay Cardinale is hiding out in Canada in 1970, when he is blackmailed by the Establishment into going undercover to Cuba as part of an anti-war American student group — the Venceremos Brigade — to cut sugar cane in solidarity with Fidel Castro’s communist economy.  His mission:  Find and kill an old hippie fugitive pal from New York City, suspected of deliberately killing Jay’s friends in an allegedly botched bombing.

However, there is much more to the deadly scheme than Jay realizes. He is confronted with a surprising betrayal, the sudden and disturbing discovery that he is merely a hapless pawn in a complex assassination plot, and an agonizing moral dilemma.

Add some steamy sex, lots of rum drinking and dope smoking, funny and accurate scenes of unwashed youthful angst, a couple of creepy CIA agents and smarmy Cuban officials, snappy dialogue and a suspenseful plot that is spell-binding, and Waxman has a sure hit with this entertaining yarn.

ERIC HOPKINS: ABOVE AND BEYOND
By Carl Little
Down East Books, 2011
136 pages, $50
ISBN 978-0-89272-955-5
 
When Canadian critic Northrop Frye said, “Nature is inside art as its content, not outside as its model,” he might have described the works of popular Maine artist Eric Hopkins.

ERIC HOPKINS:  ABOVE AND BEYOND is author Carl Little’s delightful book about the artist and his vast body of artwork.  Little lives on Mount Desert Island and has already written about other famous artists like Dahlov Ipcar, John Singer Sargent and Edward Hopper.

Here he writes about the life and art of Eric Hopkins, born in Bangor in 1951, raised on North Haven Island, now based in Rockland.  Although way overpriced, this classy full-color art book is a visual treat with 96 vividly colorful paintings, along with several black and white photographs of the artist at work, and several photos of his spectacular glasswork.

Hopkins’s paintings are often called modern art, and he is sometimes referred to as “a visual jazz artist.” He describes himself as “a kind of minimalist, seeking to render the world in its essential components in as simple a manner as possible.”

Perhaps most well known for his landscapes featuring land, sea and sky in an aerial perspective, it is interesting to note that his island paintings show no man-made structures at all — no houses, no buildings — and that is clearly intentional.  One of the most beautiful and intriguing paintings in the book is called “Advancing Clouds and Receding Islands,” which creates that exact visual effect in stunning pattern and color.

Hopkins is an interesting man, constantly learning, fascinated by the “changing seasonal patterns and the cycles and rhythms of nature.” He has studied art for years, as well as zoology, embryology and geology. His thirst for understanding is never quenched, and that is a lesson for everyone.

— Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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