By Gerald Hausman
Bokeelia, FL, USA
I first met Aram Saroyan the author of this ingenious short novel in 1972. We were both Poets in the Schools, thanks to a generous grant from the Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities. I liked Aram. He was the energetic, radiant, celebrated, one-word concrete poet of the Sixties, the father of a toddler named Strawberry, the husband of a pretty, painterly wife, Gailyn. Aram seemed to have everything going for him including being the only poet whose entire book of poems was read aloud on the Six O'clock News.
A couple years later Aram submitted his first novel to The Bookstore Press. This was a small company founded by David Silverstein, my wife Lorry and me. We had thus far published a few children's books, two of which were by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak. Not bad for starters, needless to say, but still we were hunting around for a novel that epitomized the things we were feeling about the demise of the 60s, the chaos of the 70s, all wrapped up in the charm of some timeless storyteller who'd been there, done that and then some.
Well, here was the guy, made to order. And maybe this was Aram's first go at prose but here was a book that made you laugh, made you wonder, made you walk the street with him in bell-bottom corduroys and shoulder length hair, high as a kite. Yes, here was a book that had the very vibes we were looking for.
There are plenty of things to say about The Street. One is that it's still just as likable now as it was then. Partly because it's the story of a young writer finding himself on the loose mainly in Manhattan but also in California during the last great rebellion in America. That in itself ensures that the book should stick around. It's history and there aren't many like it. That is to say, 60s novels that catch the flavor of being young, being in love, being totally up-front, and totally against all that is against these things.
Aram speaks for a generation about the beauty of "becoming" – a word we all used to explain that we were a work in progress. But here was a writer who was becoming a writer before our eyes, one sentence after another. The Street was praised in PublishersWeekly, Book People in Berkeley and we took out a large ad in The Paris Review. It was as if a new daring young man was on the flying trapeze and he was tripping the wire of one-word telegraphic poems and soaring out into the spacious world of novels.
When it was published in 1974 The Street was a fresh look at an old dilemma: Who am I and what is it I am seeing? Who is looking and who is out there? There's a lovely scene in the book where Aram meets up with Nick, a guy he admires –
When I looked at his face I saw the whole story of what I wasn't, what I would never be. Nick was a perfect all-American. I was like Allen Ginsberg looking into the face of Jack Kerouac, the ex-football star. Except that Nick was just like me, a New York boy on a ride through life, another stranger like me, like everybody else.
"I don't have anything going for me, man," he told me that night. "I think I have a terrible personality. Actually, I don't have any personality at all."
"I don't either," I told him. "A personality is nothing but tension."
This is classic prose, fast and clear as a running stream. And so goes the book. It never stops, well, the iridescent tension never stops, because like it or not, those times were tense. There was a war going on and there was primal denial about that war and furious bloody protest against it. You had to be cool and wise, ultra cool and extra wise to stand up and be yourself amidst the generational criticism. To be a poet, a novelist, a painter, a musician was to take the dare. Anyone could say they were one of these. But to actually be one was another matter.
The Street is a confessional novel about a time of bravery, lunacy, intimacy, drugs, decadence, too much ego, too little balance, and so much talent. Things were hopping and popping all the time, as if every moment were a coming-of-age koan.
I was still stoned. I opened the door and walked into the room without turning on the light. The air seemed filled with tiny breathing cartoons. Tiny cartoons in the California night.
Then I took a bath.
Got into bed. Turned out the light. Everything was so simple in life once you started doing things and stopped thinking about them.
So that was the way it was back then in those wild, halcyon days of discovery. Everything was either flaming like hell or flowing like karma. Our consciousness was like that too, as was our literature, music, and visual art. Everything was moving and best of all we felt a part of all of. If you want that feeling again–or perhaps for the first time– just open The Street and flow right into it, or better yet, let it flow right into you.