What has Erik Tarloff got that I haven’t got? After all, we’re both, let’s say, not getting any younger; both long-time Berkeley residents; both Jewish; and both writers. OK, scratch that last one: we’re not in the same league. Tarloff has written numerous TV scripts for M*A*S*H, All in the Family, The Bob Newhart Show, and many others. One of his best-selling novels, The Man Who Wrote the Book, was cited as a memorable book of the year by The New York Times. If his latest book is any indication, he has an active vocabulary that includes such words as gnomic, cathexis, moue, and termagant. And he’s married to Laura D’Andrea Tyson, who is even more famous than he is. Considering all this, he must have something going for him, right? And, on top of all that, he has written a novel that vividly conjures up the reality of Berkeley in the 70s. Sex. Drugs. Revolution.
All Our Yesterdays by Erik Tarloff (2014) 382 pages ★★★★★
Sex. Drugs. Revolution. A brilliant chronicle of life in Berkeley
Well, yes, of course—and Tarloff proves it all over again in his latest novel, All Our Yesterdays, a brilliant chronicle of life among the chosen few in Berkeley over the past four decades. Shifting from first-person accounts of relationships on and around the UC Berkeley campus from 1968 into the 70s, to third-person treatments largely set in the present, Tarloff spins a fascinating tale of six friends whose lives together embody the experience of a generation in this wonderfully insular community: a clinical psychologist in private practice (one of the town’s thousands of therapists), a prominent left-leaning lawyer who is also a wine snob; a rock critic and social commentator who writes books about the deeper meaning of popular culture; a brilliant professor of English literature; and a charming revolutionary activist who identifies closely with the IRA, having gone so far as to sport an Irish accent.
Familiar characters, streets, restaurants, and homes
If you live in Berkeley or are familiar with the town, you’ll recognize all these characters—plus the streets, the restaurants, the hospital, and the homes where the action takes place both in the Flatlands and in the Hills. You’ll also recognize, perhaps with a groan, the preoccupation with sex, drugs, and revolution that dominated so many conversations here for such a long time. In fact, here’s a novel whose events are so firmly grounded in Berkeley’s geography and its history that they almost couldn’t have happened anywhere else.
Deeply engaging characters created with sensitivity
But if Berkeley is simply a faraway city with no personal meaning, you can still enjoy the artistry Tarloff brings to the task of weaving together the disparate strands of a story that is so tightly constructed, it fits together into a compelling whole. And you’ll find yourself deeply engaged with the characters Tarloff creates with such knowing sensitivity. All Our Yesterdays offers word-smithing and storytelling craft at their level best.
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