From Absolute Write
by Amy Brozio-Andrews
Sandra Gurvis’ The Pipe Dreamers follows college coed Julia Brandon as she comes of age during the late 1960s. As a pretty sorority girl at Hayes University in Hampton, Ohio, Julia seems to have nothing in common with the more vocal student opponents of the Viet Nam War. But once Julia’s attempt to bail out her hippie roommate Valerie after she’s arrested for holding antiwar placards during the Star Spangled Banner at a University event go awry, Julia realizes she has more in common with them than she ever thought possible. After meeting some of Valerie’s friends at the police station, Julia is immediately taken with Win, a handsome radical who moves in the same social circles as Valerie, and begins spending more and more time with the student protesters.
Julia works hard try to reconcile the things she sees and hears on campus with what she’s been raised to value, but after learning more about Viet Nam and meeting student leader and Viet Nam veteran Louie Wexler, Julia know she must follow her conscience wherever it may lead her. Alternately approaching and withdrawing from the sexual and substance boundaries set by her middle-class good-girl upbringing, she begins to participate more fully in campus demonstrations, the hippie lifestyle and the drug culture of the late 60s/early 70s. Infighting and betrayal among the various campus groups, the town’s rejection of the University’s liberal students, Valerie’s affair with a married professor, and the arrival of Win’s draft notice all propel Julia towards a dizzying climax that shatters her naiveté once and for all.
Sandra Gurvis has written a compelling book that chronicles the significant social awakening that occurred on college campuses across the country during the Viet Nam War as seen through the eyes of one typical American woman. The characters of the The Pipe Dreamers are a snapshot of an era complete with the non-violent hippies, the radicals, the conservatives, the understanding faculty, misunderstanding parents, and reactionary administration. Julia’s journey of self-discovery is fascinating, especially for any reader too young to remember the 1960s. Gurvis has done an excellent job in recreating the setting for the reader, including all the drugs, fashion and slang that characterized the era, from "mari-huana" to "outtasight." The subtle exterior changes in Julia Brandon’s appearance mirror the subtle internal changes she goes through as the war, the protests and her personal relationships all take their toll.
The conclusion of Julia’s college education is shocking and Gurvis spares nothing in her literary recreation of the volatility of American culture in the 1960s. With a small section of The Pipe Dreamers reserved for allowing the reader to peek into the 1990s lives of the main characters, Gurvis allows the reader to observe the far-reaching effects of the tumultuous 1960s on America’s youth with sensitivity and a sense of closure.
Amy Brozio-Andrews is a freelance writer and book reviewer. Her work is regularly published by Library Journal, The Imperfect Parent, and Absolute Write. Her reviews have also been published by The Absinthe Literary Review, ForeWord Magazine, January Magazine, and Melt Magazine. Amy is also the managing editor and an international markets columnist for Absolute Write. Visit her online at http://www.amyba.com.
From Downtown Writers’ Network
by Douglas Gray
One of the classic posters from the late 1960's featured a group of a half dozen or so hippies standing by the side of a road -- young women and men in jeans, tie-dyed t-shirts, headbands, fringed jackets, and soiled capes. Underneath the group portrait ran the caption, "We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About."
You felt that you knew these people as soon as you saw them: restless youths of a discontented generation who have come together in a makeshift family of passionate, conflicted relationships.
It's hard to find a convincing novel about hippies and the antiwar movement of the Vietnam era. Most fiction either romanticizes or patronizes them, and misses the essential spirit of the times, which was perfectly expressed in that poster.
What I remember most vividly about the 1960's are the strong but often destructive bonds of friendship that brought the activists together, and a comic sense of rebellion that could suddenly turn tragic. Sandra Gurvis' new novel, The Pipe Dreamers, is one of the few novels I know of that captures the dual spirit of those times and portrays it realistically.
Set at Hayes University (which is a fictional but recognizable Ohio college around the time of the Kent State disaster), The Pipe Dreamers concerns a coterie of student activists, a band of friends and lovers who are bound in a mysterious pact. Their quixotic mission to end the war in Vietnam begins with a youthful idealism that sours into political and sexual intrigues, culminating in an inevitable catastrophe.
At the heart of the story is Julia Brandon, a naive sorority girl from Bexley who is drawn into the orbit of this group but never truly belongs to it, even when she finds herself embroiled in its plots. Like Mary Ann Singleton in Armistad Maupin's Tales of the City, Julia is the outsider and the quintessential innocent whose education into life's most perplexing truths forms the central plot of the novel.
The antiwar activists who surround her are drawn from recognizable characters of the era, but Gurvis manages to provide each one with a marked individuality through their relationship to Julia. They include a war-weary Vietnam veteran who acts as the leader of the campus protest movement; two radicals with violent agendas and sinister methods of funding them; an early feminist whose sexuality is her greatest vulnerability; and a handsome young man, the paragon of the group, who seems to have more shimmer than substance.
All of their lives are changed by a shocking disaster on that spring day in 1970 when a sense of innocence died for an entire generation across the nation. The novel doesn't end with it, though. The final fourth of The Pipe Dreamers follows them after that event, as they scatter to different parts of the world and struggle throughout their adulthood to make sense of what happened to them back at Hayes University.
Gurvis doesn't provide a sentimental denouement to their story. Though there are a few reconciliations in the closing chapters among the surviving characters, they all continue to grieve over wounds to relationships that will never heal.
Anyone who remembers the 1960s will appreciate The Pipe Dreamers for its glimpse into the past. Anyone who wasn't around at the time should read it for its honest and accurate portrayal of a time that's been widely misunderstood.
The Director of the Downtown Writers Network, Douglas Gray has been active in the Columbus writing community for over 20 years as a technical writer, event organizer, college professor and poet (Words on the Moon, 1993, Midlist Press).