Loose Change: Three Women the Sixties
by Sara Davidson
Doubleday & Company
Rating – 6/10
Summary – Author Sara Davidson tries to make sense of the ‘60s by telling the stories of three women who lived through that time. Loose Change is very readable, but the three women are often self absorbed and that makes the book a mediocre read.
Review – Ah, the ’60s… that time when America changed too much – or didn’t change enough – depending on whom you ask. In 1972, Sarah Davidson started trying to take stock of the decade by examining three lives – including her own. The result is the 1977 book Loose Change.
The story starts in 1961 at The University of California at Berkeley. Three Jewish women from Los Angeles, “Tasha,” “Susie,” and Sara (the author) go through sorority rush and become “sisters.” In the following years, Berkeley and the United States change and the three women’s lives are pushed in directions completely unforeseeable in 1961.
The three protagonists are:
Sara – the author – is a New York journalist who covers the decade’s changes. She is the only woman to use her given name in the book.
Tasha – a blonde beauty – enters the art world, but is haunted by the death of her father in November 1963.
Susie – who becomes a radical political activist on the Berkeley campus. She struggles to be a good mother, while also living her own life.
If I had to summarize what Loose Change is about I would say that it is Davidson’s attempt to come to grips with all that changed – and didn’t – during that time. Early on, she tells the reader:
“Yet by the rainy spring of 1972, I was beginning to be tired. My marriage was foundering, I was approaching thirty and my assumptions about the future were crumbling. I strained to see the visions of the sixties. Had they been a mirage? Nothing felt certain anymore” (p. 3).
That idea, that the ’60s had many unexpected repercussions, dominates the book.
The women in Loose Change were in the vanguard of society’s changes during the 1960s. Davidson provides a good portrait of what that life was like. At one point, a radical tells Susie that there will be a revolution in the U.S. in “… a minimum of six months, maximum six years… “ (p. 255). So, these women struggled to find themselves when society lurched into the ‘70s without that much-anticipated revolution.
In the ‘60s people began accept that “the personal is political” and Loose Change heavily focuses on Sara’s, Tasha’s, and Susie’s relationships. After the ‘60s, “The women were doing what they had always done. The very chores they had so rebelled against – cooking and raising kids – had kept them grounded and they had endured” (p. 320).
Loose Change includes plenty of drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll. Sara’s life as a journalist takes her to the era’s rock festivals and communes, while Tasha’s life in New York’s art world gives her access to the beautiful people. Sara offers this description –
“Noel kept me stoned on angel dust for four days, about which I remember very little, except that we stayed in a condemned building in the valley next to a car wash with dozens of freaks floating in and out. … And I remember driving home from some beach, with Nico and Zazie fucking in the back seat. Zazie was sitting on Nico’s lap and I was leaning over the front seat fondling her breasts and Noel had his hand between my legs, eighty miles an hour on the Ventura Freeway when the hood flew up and cracked the windshield. The others howled with laughter, but I was freaked. The next day I was bleeding from so much fucking and called Terry to come pick me up. I spent two days with her, recuperating, before I flew home to New York and Michael.” (pp. 279-280).
One of the biggest problems is that the book is a “slice of life” – Davidson’s narrative has no end; instead, after almost 400 pages, we are left with three women who appear to be “loose change” – their lives are still very much in flux. Loose Change might have been more satisfying had Davidson waited another ten years to write the book. It would have taken the women through their turbulent, early years and into middle age and – therefore – would have given readers a better idea of what these women made of their lives.
There are several other, minor issues with this book. It contains several pages of black-and-white photos, but they are not of the women themselves, as Davidson disguised their identities. Instead, the photos show scenes of Woodstock and other ’60s events; this is more irritating than enlightening. Also, at times Davidson does not keep her story moving forward. She includes an incredible amount of trivia on the women’s sex lives that nearly bored me to tears. (She has a near-obsessive interest in vibrators).
Loose Change offers readers a great perspective on a bygone era and what it meant to live through that time. But the book is only a qualified success. A neighbor of mine once said of some mutual acquaintances, “They just need to get over themselves.” There are times in Loose Change when readers want to offer these three women that advice, as they can seem wholly self absorbed. Perhaps it is appropriate that the book is neither wholly good nor wholly bad – just like the ’60s.