Gates of Eden is, on one hand, an ode to the idealism and hope of the youth of the sixties and, on the other, a chronicle of their erosion as they splatter against the brick wall of reality. This character-driven novel provides an accurate depiction, actually a chronology, of the political and social unrest of that era, and the various groups of young activists who came together, believing earnestly that they could radically change the world. They focused on ending the Vietnam War and civil rights.
Having been witness to the events, as well as having been an occasional participant, I can honestly say that Degelman’s characters come alive and are eerily similar to the people I knew in that time and in some of those same places.
The first chapter is set in 1945, giving the reader a sense of the various social, political, and cultural backgrounds that helped form this bold generation and its convictions. This allows the reader to understand the sixties and the prevalent attitudes and aspirations of its youth, in a historical context.
Degelman depicts not only the war and our civil rights struggles, but the rise of the sexual revolution, the drug subculture, communes, the music, the slang, the SDS, SNCC, M.L.K, and the intense atmosphere of living for the moment (this concept being the mother of ‘free love’), due to the uncertainty of tomorrow. The final chapter reverberates, long after the book is closed, with lingering thoughts, debates, judgments and/or recollections of the era. Folks often say that if you remember the sixties, you weren't there. But I contend that there are some times, places and people one just cannot forget — even through a bong haze.