“So Much Older Then: Coming of Age When the World is Coming Apart” by Paul Kuehnert; Bookbaby Publishing, 2021; 222 pages, paperback, $12.95.

If you can remember back that far, you might know that before things got really hinky during the buildup to Jan. 6, 2021, disorienting hinkiness had already rattled the 1960s and ’70s. Not to put too fine a point on it, but 13 people were shot, four of them killed by National Guard troops at a rowdy but unarmed anti-war demonstration in Ohio in May 1970. Yet for the most part, those old protests are generally remembered as self-evidently righteous, and often looked upon through a veil of nostalgia.

Paul Kuehnert, of Hallowell, recalls his experiences in those fraught years in his autobiography “So Much Older Then: Coming of Age When the World is Coming Apart.” We learn Kuehnert grew up in a churchgoing family in Missouri, and his youthful decision to resist the military draft obviously took guts. In detailed scene-setting that includes extensive dialogue, he recounts discussions with his depressed father, tense encounters with his local congregation, and escapades as a student anti-war pamphleteer which resulted in visits from the FBI. One moral-philosophical thread, whose central conflict may call to mind Tim O’Brien’s powerful story “On the Rainy River,” involves Kuehnert and his friends’ decisions to first defy the legal requirement to register for the draft, then shift their reasoning and comply.

The book’s title echoes the refrain of the song “My Back Pages” (“I was so much older then / I’m younger than that now”) by Bob Dylan, whose often-ironic lyrics are still cherished as anthems of that turbulent time. “So Much Older Then” seems like sincere, factual truth-telling, and is a book for people interested in how frictions similar in intensity to those boiling now looked 50 years ago.

Readers may also recognize its material in “Hearts in Suspension,”  the University of Maine Press book of recollections by Stephen King and his UMaine classmates, and the early chapters of “Hard Chance: Tree Farming in Troubled Times” by Peter Pfeiffer, of Harmony.

“So Much Older Then” is available through online book sellers and Paul Kuehnert’s website.

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections the first and third Fridays of each month. Dana Wilde is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Contact him at [email protected]

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