"The Year That Trembled" by Scott Lax

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In a story that captures the zeitgeist of the moment perfectly, Scott Lax portrays the rapt and terrified attention that a small group of young men paid to events at the Selective Service in Washington in 1970. The Year That Trembled follows a strict chronological line in recounting the year in question; the Beatles, drug abuse, love lives, and what to do about the Vietnam-era draft weighed heavily on these young men’s minds, and I can tell you, that part of this story is eerily accurate.

This book is essentially an idyll, with young men desperate to dodge the Sword of Damocles dangled by the Selective Service System. We follow young Casey’s point of view as he traipses through his post high-school life, working as a landscaper, listening to records, and watching his housemates get high. Casey is a sensitive sort, unsure of what he’ll do if drafted, fond of his friends, but not really engaged in his life. Casey’s love of his natural surroundings – he lives in a farmhouse with three friends, and it is surrounded on three sides by a lovely meadow – is a curative against the angst of living in America at that time.

This is a focused, personal, and minute account of one young man’s very difficult journey toward manhood. We can see Casey take the very first, tiny steps on the path he’ll follow, and can feel the devastating emotions that accompany his decisions. reads as an elegy; it covers a lost time, in a lost natural world, and a life no longer available in rural America. There is real loss, real death, in the story as well, and this novel works extremely well as an antiwar piece – it’s disheartening to recall how powerful American interests prosecuted such an apparently pointless, unwinnable war.
The Year That Trembled

The Year That Trembled enjoys a strength of storytelling based on personal, amusing, and very real observations. For me, who experienced this time first-hand, it was a trip down memory lane. For other readers, it offers a spare, economical, and very heartfelt journey.
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