---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 17 Dec 2001 13:28:25 -0800
From: radtimes <email@example.com>
Subject: Fugitive Days by Bill Ayers
by Bill Ayers
Reviewed by Bob Cook (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Bill Ayers would seem to be the unluckiest author in bookdom these days.
"Fugitive Days," his memoir of being an unrepentant advocate of violence in
the name of fighting injustice, was released days before the Sept. 11
airplane hijackings and bombings committed by, apparently, unrepentant
advocates of violence in the name of fighting injustice. The morning of the
attack, the New York Times ran a feature tied to Ayers' book headlined: "No
Regrets for a Love of Explosives."
"I don't regret setting bombs," the Times quoted Ayers as saying about his
days with the Weathermen, a radical and violent offshoot of the 1960s-era
New Left group Students for a Democratic Society. "I feel we didn't do enough."
Oh, that doesn't look good.
The title itself is a misnomer. Ayers doesn't get to the actual fugitive
part of his book until page 204 of 293 pages. And the payoff isn't great
once he gets to the actual fugitive days, which is too bad, because that's
where the book shows its greatest potential. The personal anecdotes of life
on the lam can be striking in showing what mundanity is given up in a life
on the run. "I wondered if I would ever eat a hot dog at Wrigley Field
again," Ayers writes.
Ayers details his life from birth through an idyllic 1950s childhood and
subsequent activist awakening at the University of Michigan in the 1960s,
an awakening that, given his penchant for writing exquisite descriptions of
the women he meets, seems to be as much about getting laid as getting justice.
This part of the story is necessary, but it shouldn't dominate the book.
Most of the 1960s events Ayers chronicles, like the 1968 Democratic
convention and the following year's "Days of Rage" uprising in Chicago,
have been well-told elsewhere; he tells us the crowd chanted "The whole
world is watching" to the Chicago police, as if no one had ever heard that
What is most interesting about Ayers is that he and other members of the
Weathermen went underground in 1970, following the accidental bombing
deaths of three of their members in a Greenwich Village townhouse. Ayers,
and the others, re-emerged in 1981 after one Weatherman, Kathy Boudin,
participated in a Brinks truck robbery attempt that ended with two cohorts
shooting and killing two Nyack, N.Y., police officers. Interestingly, Ayers
doesn't explain why the robbery led to his re-emergence, nor does he
mention the cops killed, dismissing the episode as a "bloody robbery attempt."
Ayers begins the book with the sentence, "Memory is a motherfucker," which
is a running theme about how memory can betray you, although it's possibly
also a justification for leaving certain events out such as almost
everything that happened to Ayers between 1973 and 1981. What should be
the climactic part of the book
Ayers' surrender to the FBI and his subsequent release because of
government misconduct gets tossed in like an afterthought. And his memory
seems quite selective Ayers remembers every pointless polemical argument
within his group, but he forgets to mention that he advised the young to
"kill all the rich people, break up their cars and apartments, bring the
revolution home, kill your parents, that's where it's at."
The memory that haunts the book is the death of Ayers' girlfriend, Diana
Oughton, in the 1970 blast. Because of his instant fugitive status after
the explosion, Ayers couldn't take a close look at the townhouse, and he
couldn't take time to mourn. Near the book's conclusion, he describes a
recent visit to the Vietnam War memorial in which he writes her name in
chalk on the sidewalk; seeing Oughton as much a casualty of Vietnam as any
soldier, the action represents the collision of Ayers' politics and
personal life. Her death is the one thing that has led him to question if
he ever went too far in his politics.
In a line of influential women Ayers lists (his mother and current wife,
former Weatherman Bernadine Dohrn), Oughton seemed to have the most
influence on the person he became. It's very possible that this book was
meant not to be so much a memoir, but therapy for Ayers in trying to come
to terms with her death.
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