As I walked into the Alumni Room in the Campus Center, I was fairly certain that I wasn’t the only person in the room who had no clue what he was walking into, apart from an obligation to respond. I was soon told that a former UMass Boston professor named K.C. Frederick would be reading from his new novel, After Lyletown. After some introductory remarks and an expression of camaraderie, which I felt oddly inaccessible, coming as it did from three complete strangers, the reading began.
We are immediately informed that the novel deals with the 60s, 80s and 90s, and that what would be read to us occurred in 1968. The immediate suggestion was that the tone would be retrospective; this attorney in the 90s would be reliving his graduate school experiences to us. Once the narrative began, this 20-something reader felt outside the event, looking in. Having been born 18 years after the events told, the atmosphere and memories evoked were no more visceral than what I’ve seen from film, movies, music and books. Much like the laudatory and sentimental exchanges among the reader and his prior speakers, there was a deeply personal music being played. I could observe the notes, but I couldn’t hear a thing. Above all others, I felt myself relating to the mouse that scurried across the room and dove into the wall, which nobody else seemed to notice; we were mere wallflowers.In spite of these feelings, I heard a vivid sadness. A young man and woman share a decadent evening; when the sexual tension gives way to an embrace, their passions are interrupted by a seizure of grief by the young woman, lamenting police brutality against blacks. In the world at large, Frederick noted that some people claimed “the revolution was so close, they could smell it.” For all their sound and fury, the result of their labors was the election and re-election of Richard M. Nixon and Spiro Agnew, both ousted from office in the span of 10 months in the face of impending criminal charges. Once again, passion is quashed by grim truth.
The reading offered an odd synthesis of being an outsider, ignorant but with a clue. The experience was that of a dutiful college student, trying to pay attention, though really clutching at straws and thinking more about the text messages he was trying to ignore from that blonde hottie from work. The meta-experience was a nagging anxiety; I was listening to a man who was a published author and college professor – my own aspirations, incarnate. Yet, much of what he said could just as well have been spoken in Cantonese. Does my subconscious know something my more immediate awareness doesn’t? Did I space out at the wrong time? Or did I just have too little (or too much?) coffee? The more positive takeaway is that, if nothing else, the man had me thinking…on a university campus, this is a plus.