The Season of the Witch - James Leo Herlihy (1971)

The Season of the Witch is a period piece, no doubt about it. It's a coming of age tale, in which our young heroine heads to New York City in the winter of 1969. Seventeen year old Gloria Random adopts the name "Witch Gliz" as she goes underground in the hippie subculture; hence "Season of the Witch." The driving arc of the story is her search for her father, who she believes to be teaching somewhere in NYC. That focus is as much a McGuffin as anything, since the real story is Witch coming to terms with her own life, desires and goals. Finding her father is simply the excuse to get her to NYC so that she can begin the process of becoming an adult.

Herlihy manages to write believably in the first person, a trick at the best of times much less when the narrator is a seventeen year old hippie-chick from Michigan. His handling of character is very good, masterful even. The writing captures the time beautifully, leaving one with the sense that even if this particular story didn't happen it certainly could have.

Reading it now, nearly forty years later, one can't help but be reminded of the spirit that inhabited the age in the late 60s. It's all there - the sense of promise as well as the feeling that the way has already begun to be lost. The book feels a little dated, but at the same time it evokes a moment in history so well that the fact that it is showing its age a bit doesn't seem a drawback.

Ultimately, though, the book is so firmly rooted in its setting that it is understandable that it has fallen by the wayside in a way that some other books from the time have not. Coming of age stories are eternal; coming of age in NYC in 1969 are not so eternal.

Overall Grade: B

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