The Adept by Michael McClure

I was initially drawn to The Adept by its psychedelic dust jacket.  Even after a friend pointed out that each "e" of the title on the cover looked like a Pac-Man — albeit striped Pac-Mans — I didn't care. I didn't care even though I was strictly a Galaga kid back when Pac-Man was all the rage.  I had to have it; that cover called to me; I was transfixed by its meditative, out of body experience, in the cover art and design.  Thankfully, Lorne Bair Rare Books, self-described "specialists in the history, art and literature of American social movements" (Woodstock's generation, for instance) was there for me when I was jonesing hard for it and needed this amazing fix fast.

Copy of my first edition, 1971
The Adept was Michael McClure's second novel, published by Delacorte Press forty-five years ago, and so far, it has been his last. After safariing deep underneath its alluring surface cover, I polished the novel off last night.

Sure wish McClure had written another novel (or would write one more soon).  Pure pleasure finding myself unself-consciously submerged by the reading, swirling deep into the vortex of Michael McClure's immense imagination — a subversive, unpredictable, and visionary realm at once spiritual and corporeal.  Michael McClure has long been an Artist attuned to whatever it is out there that stalks and breathes beyond our senses, and in The Adept he takes us there.

The Adept is "anti-narrated," you could say, by an expert antihero; by a metafictional-minded — "Listen, my Dear Reader, my Fine Punk Asshole, my Lovely Hypocrite, and you shall hear what it is to be a full-grown adult male animal with hair down to the ass and a fine set of muscles." — cocaine addled mystic, this drug dealing New Yorker, Nicholas, with his kooky predilection for impromptu longueurs galore on things like leonine symbolism one second or Botticelli's illustrations for The Inferno the next.  The novel compels its "Dear Reader ... Lovely Hypocrites" along with Nicholas' digressive commentary (is it maybe Michael McClure's social commentary disguised?) because, yes, it blends like this linguistic smoothie out of erudite esoterica and streetwise jive.  The Adept is serious funny brains.  McClure's colloquial commingling of down and dirty earthiness and high art prefigured David Foster Wallace's own super-smarts-meets-low-arts sensibility of style.

"More Niccolo Macchiavelli than St. Nick," Nicholas' worldview counters the counterculture of his time.  In 1971, when we meet him — we "Fine Punk Assholes" — whatever happy hippie idealism he may have once had has long escaped this enigmatic cynic for good—
"I despise the radical and social Left which would poison me and put me in a prison of Society—leaving me no pleasures but those of happy work, and marriage, and perhaps finally automation so that there would be nothing for me to do but watch state-owned television and pursue crafts and cultural events until the utopia breaks up in sheer boredom of existence."
I said I was enamored by the The Adept's dust jacket at the outset.  I'll say now I was mind blown by the book, and leave it at that, except for this beautiful bit of prose—
"A rose is not only beautiful when new but it is also beautiful when wilted. The Japanese know this. There is more thought in a wilted rose than in a new rose. The new rose, lucent flower meat, gleams and gives off light like a psychedelic drug being whirled in a centrifuge in a dark room. No, not like that. The new rose is new flesh.  It stares back at you.  It is shocked to be removed from the garden, but newborn to be unitary, disparate, and free."