I choose to read certain books, and not others, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes I choose books based on beautiful and descriptive prose. Others times it is because of a great story. And some I’ve read simply because the story touches upon something I find meaningful.
In the case of Reilly Ridgell’s book The Isla Vista Crucible (available online), I was drawn in by the subject matter — I.V. in 1969-70. The story describes the lives of three college students living in an apartment overlooking the ocean on Del Playa.
The students all exemplify a particular type. One is a rich boy who can get any girl he wants. Another is a wealth-challenged graduate student. And the last one is a young activist focused on opposing the war in Vietnam and terrified of being called up in the draft.
The book describes their experiences, many of them involving women, as they get stoned, listen to music, and talk about issues such as the Vietnam War, racism, and communism. While the writing is somewhat irregular, there are some interesting descriptions of I.V. during this time period.
Ridgell refers to a place called The Magic Forest near Devereux, which sounds truly magical, and takes us on a journey to a crepe restaurant along The Loop.
This book is not for the faint of heart, however. It is full of sex, drugs, and the f-word. The young men in this story spend a lot of their time trying to find a woman to have sex with. Quite often they succeed.
Music lovers might like the frequent references to the artists of this time period, including Led Zeppelin, The Who, and the Rolling Stones. It is amazing how many great albums were produced during this time. One of the roommates also has a pet monkey named Heather, which I found fascinating.
What I found the most compelling about this story, however, are the passages that relate to the riots of ’69. The author describes the burning of the Bank of America building, giving a play-by-play of the event. In the book, the riot starts on campus and spills out into I.V. Protesters break the windows of local businesses and then set their sights on the bank.
First, they tear off the front door and then they begin to trash the contents inside. The author describes the rioters lighting up various materials to watch them burn as a group of students, including fraternity boys, try to stop the destruction. There is one description in particular that I couldn’t get out of my mind. It is the image of a protester rolling a trash can full of flaming material into the bank. After the bank goes up in flames, residents watch the orange glow from their houses.
This riot was just one of several, and the author describes how the police response escalates eventually to a point where innocent bystanders are injured in the mayhem. As the situation gets out of control, students who weren’t originally involved in the protests start to take notice. They band together to engage in a peaceful demonstration. The story ends with an image of officers fanned out along The Loop talking amicably to groups of students. Peace has arrived.
Ridgell, who only lived in I.V. for a year, said he wrote the book to provide a means to talk about the issues at the forefront in 1970. He said that he wanted “to delve into the emotions and politics and social interaction of that troubling time with all the controversy surrounding the draft and the Vietnam War.”
The author left I.V. and entered the Peace Corps. He currently lives in Guam and is the dean of Guam Community College. He has written a novel called the Green Pearl Odyssey, which is set in Micronesia and a textbook called Pacific Nations and Territories.