The Young, the Radical and the UglynMichael Wolff: White Kids; SummitnBooks; New York.nLouis Filler: Vanguards and Followers;nNelson-Hall; Chicago.nby Edward J. WalshnA marvelous setting into perspectivenis accomplished by White Kids—a.ngentle first novel—and Vanguards andnFollowers—a thorough and authoritativenhistory of what have been calledn”youth movements” in America. Togethernthey form a picture of the 1960’snthat is ugly and sad, and the 70’s, whennthe seething wave of youth “consciousness”nreceded, revealing its mentalnsludge and maimed victims.nThe 80’s will be a decade of lookingnback. There has been a deluge of booksnthat grabbed at various short-lived delusionsnof the 60’s and beat them to deathnas evidence of new “lifestyles.” CharlesnReich’s The Greening of America wasna good example. He and his ideas arennow long forgotten, succeeded by thenliterature of the hot-tub set, the “assertiveness”nbooks that are still makingna killing at health-food stores, and retailersnof jogging suits.nIt is true that these successive floodntides of brutish psychology had an impactnin America, though its depth isnstill being assessed. The glare of inanenpolitical ideas and shabby art and literaturenthat are the residue of the 60’snand 70’s confronts any serious writernwho seeks earnestly to tell the truthnabout American life. Thus it is terriblyndifficult for an honest writer to writenhonestly these days. He must look fornthe truth that lasts, that has nevernchanged, for the strength, simplicitynand beauty of American idealism,nscarred and obscured though it has beennin recent decades by an onslaught ofnMr. Walsh is a frequent contributornto these;nlies masquerading as new ideas. Indeed,none likely assumption on openingnWolff’s White Kids is that anothernyoung writer has failed, and producednanother junk-food paean to jaded denizensnof the 60’s culture. The title suggestsnkinship with the song “WhitenBoys,” featured in the 1968 Broadwaynmusical Hair, that expressed morenclearly than anything else the politicalnand social grotesqueness of the “youth”nmovement.nIt may be that Wolff set out to writensomething different than the subtle,nelegant book he ended up with. Perhapsnhe originally wanted to sit in GreenwichnVillage and produce an account of hownthe average American is enjoying thenAge of Aquarius. Instead, he travelednacross the country—the book is onlynsemifictional—visiting people he hadnknown, and meeting others he had not.nHis first stop is his home town, notnnamed, an old manufacturing city a busnride from New York; one guesses Paterson,nNew Jersey—a community of Italiansnand Presbyterians. Wolff visitsnformer friends, including the father ofna local girl who was killed in a battlenbetween terrorists and police in the fierynend of the Symbionese Liberation Armynin Los Angeles. The town is a world ofnsupermarkets and churches, schoolsnand factories, of people who grew upnthere and stayed there. Not everyone,nhe learns, abandons the blue-collar backwatersnfor California and New York—nthough left-wing radicals and writersnalways do.nHe goes then to San Francisco toninvestigate the aftermath of a horriblencrime, the murder of a young woman bynher brother, and encounters the peoplenwho composed their circle of friends:nyoung, liberal, “involved” in makingnthe social rounds of their banal lives.nA twenty-year-old girl with PhiladelphianMain Line roots works as a stripper;nothers, educated and chic, pass theirndays as coffee-house waitresses andnnnbookstore clerks, or writing books. Andnyet Wolff puts in the mouth of the youngnstripper an offhand but truthful remark:n”The mark of a community is whethernit can adjust.” This community, in itsndepressing way, is adjusting to the deathnof its friend, the rich young woman whonplayed “Scarlett and Zelda and JackienBouvier.” Her brother shares a cell withnTex Watson of Manson family notoriety.nThe illusions are dead and gone. Thesenpeople are surviving, peaceably thoughnconfusedly. Wolff sadly moves on.nHe moves on to the later 70’s wherenhis only caricature, Brandon, the completennarcissist, is lost, floundering amidnreligious fundamentalism and boringnwealth. It is to Wolff’s credit that he isngentle with this pitiful victim of the MenDecade, but it may be, too, that he enviesnBrandon his good looks, his money, hisnsuccess with women. For Wolff is not andisinterested bystander, he is lookingnfor something to write about. He leavesnNew York again to meet John and Margaret,nnewlyweds en route to Floridanon their honeymoon. After the cartoonlikenBrandon, there is something ineluctablyngenuine about John and Margaret:nordinary people ordinarily named,nwith an impulse to unaffected, uncalculatingngenerosity. We know they arenreal: there is a substance and vigor innthem that reminds us of others likenthem we have all known. And we arenstruck with subtle force by the realizationnthat there are plenty of genuinelyngood people, unpretentious people, innour own worlds who do every day whatnis right and fair. It is an exhilaratingndiscovery for Wolff, one that we suspectnremains with him.nThe final chapter is the best: Wolffnthe free-lance writer decides to investigate,nof all things, talent, competencenand bravery in the U.S. Army. He interviewsnsenior officers at places that arenculturally light-years from the usualnworld of the New York magazine writer:nFort Bragg, North Carolina, Fort Camp-n127nMay/June 1980n