April 2019

The Light Years

By Chris Rush
Review by

Chris Rush’s mesmerizing memoir, The Light Years, is a detail-laden account of his turbulent adolescence in the 1960s.

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There is a saying: If you remember the 1960s, you must not have been there. If you were, and went on to enjoy—or survive—their segue into the ’70s, Chris Rush’s mesmerizing memoir, The Light Years, may cause some fine flashbacks. But if you know those drug-addled days only by reputation and the sounds of their haze-spawned music, Rush’s detail-laden account of his turbulent adolescence will be quite an eye-opener.

The middle child of seven in a well-off New Jersey family that knew how to party, Rush was an artistic, sexually conflicted misfit. His alcoholic father loathed him, his mother protected him, and his older sister introduced him to marijuana and LSD by the time he was 12—“sacraments,” she called them, not to be confused with heroin or cocaine, which would come later. Rush remembers his acid trips with poetic clarity. Watching an American flag-clad Frisbee player at a party, he saw “stroboscopic trails” following him, “frame by frame by frame. I began to think of the awfulness of the [Vietnam] war, of dead bodies piled in the sun. Maybe the glitter-acid was coming on a little too strong.”

After his father threatened to kill him, Rush left the private school where he was peddling drugs and followed his sister out west—California, Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming—and into the business of storing and selling drugs. Living in “stash houses” and partaking of the inventory, Rush grew to love tripping in the wild of the mountains, adding hashish to his repertoire, spending months alone and sketching his drug-fueled fantasies. He came down into the hill towns to call his mother collect, to let her know he was alive and to be cautioned not to come home. Lovers and friends along the way seemed as lost as he was.

Today a celebrated Tucson artist, Rush recounts his troubled journey not as a cautionary tale but as a testament to a time when finding a place in the real world could be life-saving. For him, it was learning to bake a pie and sharing it with a friend. For his reader, this redeeming affirmation comes as both revelation and relief.

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The Light Years

The Light Years

By Chris Rush
ISBN 9780374294410

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