Davidson, Sara

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Davidson, Sara 1943–

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Davidson, an American novelist and journalist, is the author of Loose Change, a popular autobiographical novel and television serialization of the growth and awakening consciousness of three women in the 1960s.

Sara Davidson's book of fictionalized reportage, "Loose Change," bills itself as the true-to-life adventures of "three women of the sixties." It purports to be a social history of that tumultuous period seen through the lives of three California women … who went to Berkeley in the early 60's, were seniors when J.F.K. was assassinated, pursued the various panaceas of sexual liberation, political activism, spiritual questing and wound up being 30 and disappointed just like most people. As in a novel, the names have been changed except for Sara Davidson who appears as "Sara" in the book. Her story is by far the most authentic and interesting. What particularly distinguishes "Loose Change" from a novel about the same period is its formlessness, its easy topicality, its false sense of conveying history when it is really only dropping the names of historical events, as one might drop the names of famous people….

It is as if the author expected the mere invocation of the events to conjure memories in the reader, to carry their own emotional weight. A teen-ager born in 1963 would read this book in vain, seeking to know how it felt to be a college student when the President was assassinated. The author rattles off famous historical events for the reader rather than re-creating them, shaping them and making them come alive.

And yet there is a touching story here, and it is Sara Davidson's own story. Sara (the character, and perhaps the author, too) has an engaging sense of adventure, a willingness to try anything once, a real lust for life. She is a risk-taker, willing to be a fool if in the process she may find enlightenment….

One of the most moving sections of "Loose Change" deals with the author's passage from cynicism to trust and openness through her meetings with Ram Dass, the American guru, formerly Dr. Richard Alpert. Davidson sets out to nail and categorize Ram Dass and other "salvation seekers" and winds up questioning the roots of her profession and livelihood….

The Ram Dass material raises the most compelling questions in this otherwise rather cluttered book. What good is political radicalism if we don't seek to know and change ourselves? What good is sexual freedom if we find it difficult to love ourselves and others? What point is there to the constant chasing after exotic experiences if, in the process, we lose our own centers?…

The lives of all three women are interesting enough, but the telling is often so sprawling that only at odd moments does one feel empathy for them. As a writer, Davidson has a tendency to drown the reader in trivia—like a cook drowning a prime fillet in sauce. We have to know the brand-names of every garment worn by every character, and yet the most important emotional events (deaths, abortions, political assassinations, the disappearance of relatives in fascist countries) are passed over with hardly an effort to describe what anyone thought or felt. There is a heartbreaking shallowness here—heartbreaking because the book might have been so much stronger.

It is not that one wants answers about the 60's and whether or not their particular contribution to sensibility survived the decade, but only that the questions might have been posed more sharply.

It is fascinating to hear Sara Davidson's characters, circa 1968, predicting revolution within a minimum of six months, maximum of six years and then to realize that here it is 1977 and such predictions have already entered the hazy realm of nostalgia—along with Scott Fitzgerald's flaming youth, Hemingway's Paris and the recipes of Alice B. Toklas. What does America do to gobble up incipient revolutions, make their leaders...

(The entire section contains 1642 words.)

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