The First Hippie?

First HippieMy new years resolution, in addition to starting smoking, is to try to review more current, contemporary, hot of the presses, bestsellers. But the new year is still young and I recently finished The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham. I don't have to tell you it's a classic. But have you read it? Recently? I didn't see any of the movies of it -- especially the one Bill Murray made before his revival. But I like Maugham's superb short stories. So... 

A quick WIA (what it's about): Rich people in industrial Chicago between the wars. Rich people in Paris. And one broken man's upsetting the apple cart of all his expectations - a "best and brightest of his generation" type guy who decides his goal in life is "loafing." And then watching it morph into a spiritual search -- touched with more than a little magic.

It's very proto-hippie, proto-Beatles in India, proto-mystical. (Others have called Maugham the first Hippie, and while I'm not sure he would agree -- especially when it came to their grooming -- I think he'd applaud their free-spirited and multi-cultural way of experiencing the world.)

In a hint of post-modern tricks to come, a writer named Maugham, who is a minor character, narrates the events. Along the way Mr. Maugham conjures up some very juicy characters -- especially Templeton, the snob to end all snobs. Some very funny bits. Some dark ones.

Since the pundits are wont to tell us that we are living in a new, religious era, I thought it'd be interesting to see what the vinegar-laced old agnostic Mr. Maugham had to say about his varieties of religious experience. What struck me was Maugham's wrestling with humanity and spirit. If there is any religion in the book, it is the religion of human suffering and indifference.

But that hasn't stopped a bevy of very spiritually minded websites cropping up canonizing the book.

It's compelling. Beautifully written. Full of narrative holes -- characters just dropped in because they were cool to write about. But it hangs together and it's a nice journey to another time and place. It's also a slightly mind-altering experience, which is something we can all use from time to time.

I promise to try to read and review some new stuff again soon, but I've just fallen into Evelyn Waugh's first novel and I can't get up.

'Til next time...

Ken Krimstein Ken.jpgMr. Krimstein is a writer, cartoonist, father, and grump who lives in New York City. So there.