Wisdom's Maw: The Acid Novel

Author: Todd Brendan Fahey
Publisher: Far Gone Books
Copyright: 1995
ISBN: 0-9651839-0-4
Rating: Five Stars
Review by: jamesk@pinpub.com

Well finally.

Ever since I first read about project MK-ULTRA in Jay Steven's Storming Heaven, I've dreamed about writing a novel which details the American government's covert experiments with psychedelic drugs. With Wisdom's Maw, Todd Brendan Fahey has apparantly beaten me to it. Aptly subtitled "The Acid Novel," Wisdom's Maw dedicates itself to the subject of the CIA's experiments with LSD in the '50s and '60s, and begs the question: How far did these experiments really go?

It's no secret that the CIA spent many years experimenting with psychedelic "mind-control" agents on the general public. Project names like ARTICHOKE, MK-ULTRA, and the twisted MIDNIGHT CLIMAX hang over the CIA's head like a dirty daiper: POW's were brainwashed, civilians were unknowingly dosed, convicts were kept high for hundreds of days on end, agents casually dosed themselves -- and other agents -- to prove their bravado... The whole dirty skunkworks has long since been exposed, but in Wisdom's Maw, Fahey takes each facet of these various experiemnts and explodes them in glorious, diabolical detail.

Wisdom's Maw reads like an Oliver Stone-esque retelling of the whole messy affair. At the center of Fahey's LSD conspiracy is Al Hubbard -- a real-life figure who liberally spinkled Sandoz's finest LSD-25 across North America -- now reborn in Fahey's mind as "the Captain," a high-level agent convinced that LSD is the most powerful weapon ever unleashed on the human race. His evangelical dedication to the drug fuels his twisted conspiracies, and spells trouble for the cocky cast of counterculture rebels caught up in their own prehipstoric psychodramas.

Anyone who lived through the era, or who has read Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, should be quite familiar with the tapestry of pop-culture mythos Fahey tosses into Wisdom's Maw. The plot revolves around Franklin Moore, a fictionalized mirror of Ken Kesey during the early days of his celebrity. Moore is an all-American back-country writer-cum-counterculture hero; an LSD-fueled puppet of the CIA; and the unwitting fall-guy in Captain Hubbard's plot to backburn the social revolution before it explodes. All the usual suspects stumble, weave, and burn their way through the scenery: Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassidy, Allen Ginsberg (in the guise of Carlo Marx), Aldous Huxley, and the outrageously rigid Hunter S. Thompson in tow with a group of rowdy Hell's Angels.

Even the man himself, John F. Kennedy, has a brief LSD bummer in the lap of Mary Pinchot before his untimely Dallas demise. And despite various liberties taken by a man writing fiction, the plot hangs together very tightly and stays true to seminal events of the era. By carefully retelling familiar factual episodes with a new spin, Fahey shows that he's done his homework -- and that his own story may not be as far from the truth as one might think.

But despite the careful recreations of the Perry Lane scene, the Kesey camp at La Honda, and the first Human Be-In, there are some conspicuous omissions from Fahey's frantic tale. The good doctor, Timothy Leary, is not to be found, nor is super-snoop Gordon Liddy and his band of Feds prowling across the lawns at Millbrook estate. That particular chapter of LSD history didn't make it into Wisdom's Maw, nor did Kesey's "Furthur" LSD bus trip across the country.

Fahey can get away with such omissions on the grounds that this is fiction after all, and trying to lovingly recreate each intricacy of the times would surely result in a book of monstrous proportions. However, the fact that Wisdom's Maw wraps itself up neatly by page 185* is the book's only flaw. The frenetic pace and depraved psychedelic depths start to unravel and steam out of control as the book hits it's peak, but the abrupt comedown leaves one feeling slightly cheated, like the craziest chapters were still to come, but oh shit, we ran out of acid. Damn.

All in all, Wisdom's Maw is quick-paced, engrossing, and at times quite dizzying. The casually sinister way in which LSD is gulped down by (and secretly slipped to) all parties involved fills this book to the brim with depravity, sex (lots of sex), chaos, paranoia, murder, and general bad craziness. The cold, unflinching way Fahey exposes the dark side of LSD use shows that he is certainly well aquainted with his subject matter.

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