Is there anywhere a young man so dull he would not sell his soul for experience? In this striking new novel, quite different from anythign he has written before, John Hersey probes deeply, but with rich humor, into the aimlessness, boredom, and rebellion of a group of undergraduates in a New Englad college. In one of his remarkable insights into the problems of our times, he identifies their search for “breakthrough”—intense sensory experience of every kind—with the Faustian pursuit of illusion.
John Fist was a talented over-achiever in his first year at Sheldon. But then he suddently lost his drive, his sense of purpose and identity. One of his friends promises him all the extreme experiences of modern life: love, war, orgy, beachcombing, povery, sex, protests (and protests against protests), and total “freedom.” First there is Margaret, simple, open, affectionate. But Fist is restless and breaks with her after a marvelously funny and touching night in a motel. Then there is Mona, the bright, high-class whore who somehow knows quite a lot about how professors talk. Fist takes her home to his middle-class parents, and the masquerade turns into one of the most hilarious and yet moving scenes in the book. Even the devastating release of LSD is powerless to help Fist, who finally realizes that identity cannot come to him artificially, through any escape, drug, or indulgence, but must be dredged up from deep within.
Thus John Fist becomes a man. And thus ends a rich and moving and distinguished novel about some very real contemporaries.
John Hersey was born in Tientsin, China, in 1914 and lived there until 1925, when his family returned to the United States. He studied at Yale and Cambridge, served for a time as Sinclair Lewis’s secretary, and then worked several… More about John Hersey