Monday, March 12, 2012

Book Report: Max Ehrlich's The Reincarnation of Peter Proud

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Some books are great because they capture a story, others a place, and still others a time. Max Ehrlich's Reincarnation of Peter Proud is a great snapshot of the early 70's, with the "trippy" 60's still reverberating and morphing into burgeoning New Age movement. At least, that's how it feels. I wasn't there, so I really don't know. The closest I can get is the TV, books, and movies of that time, and it feels like Reincarnation of Peter Proud fits right into that, despite it wanting to be a supernatural thriller.

The early 70s zeitgeist was a kind of naivete of possibility. The concept of reincarnation is, of course, 1000s of years old, but such new age concepts were on the rise (Once again. See 1920s. Strike that: even earlier). It seems like there was a time in the wake of the atom bomb and lunar landing when mainstream culture started to warm to the idea that there could be much more out there than we imagined (Star Trek was launched around this time and Star Wars soon thereafter). The universe is a vast and unknowable place. Only 50% of what I'm saying is horseshit.

I'm not suggesting that any era can be reduced to discrete parts. This book just flows nicely in a vein that I think of as 1970s Supernatural Materialism (ha!). Movies and books and even political philosophies of the time (radial militant "Marxists": Germany's Bader-Meinhof, Japan's United Red Army, America's various groups that were painted as such, like the Weatherman, the Black Panthers; see: Network) all try to use the tools of science and materialism to take an "objective" look at fringe ideas. In this fiction there's often some fringe scientist who calls himself a parapsychologist or ectoplasmic technician or some title to legitimize his/her efforts. Just see/read: The Dead Zone, The Fury, The Exorcist II, (this continued into the 80's with Firestarter, The Entity, and Poltergeist), and mix in a healthy portion of supernatural horror of the time (Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, and The Omen). Now enter Max Ehrlich with the Reincarnation of Peter Proud: boom! Bestseller.

The great thing about this era is that it's not now. There are not 25 shows on the Sci-Fi Channel (SyFy, Sci-Fie, whatever) all about ghosthunters who have yet to record even one second of ghostly or unexplained phenomenon; there's not youtube with 100 man years of CCTV footage of bugs mistaken for ghost or otherworldly creatures. I'm not saying there are no ghosts. I'm not saying that there's no unexplained, or demons, or afterlife. I'm saying there is a lack of any evidence for ESP, past-lives, angels, telekinesis, auras, and other phenomenon which has pushed most of those ideas further into Fringe/Pseudos-Science territory, a dearth which didn't exist in the early 70s. The 60s just happened and mainstream America was openly talking about psychedelics, drugs, and alternative lifestyles for the second time (see: early American utopian communes, at least about lifestyles).

Ahh!!! I was born again!
I don't know if Ehrlich captured it or contributed to it, but his adequate book went bestseller and then onto Hollywood, and is going Hollywood again (directed by David Fincher and written by Andrew Kevin Walker, both of whom brought us Se7en; there's plenty of dark potential in the book that Ehrlich didn't explore than Fincher could really capitalize upon). The book is an enjoyable 70s romp, though I never really connected with the main character. For one, this book really doesn't have any peril, until the end. There's some interesting cultural exploration of Native American dream therapy (ondinnok), though it was introduced early, dropped, and then picked up at the end. Most of the book is just following Pete around as he investigates his dreams so that he can sleep better at night. There's some grandiose talk of prophets and such, but mostly it's just Pete bumping around. His life, but for lack of sleep, is pretty fucking absolutely unchallenged. The most interesting thing to me, besides the 70's New Age zeitgeist, was his investigation pre-internet! (Yes, yes, I know: ARPANET: 60s). That was the most entertaining part of the story. There's a part where he sees something on TV and he has to actually call the TV station, from a landline! Then he has to meet with the producer, in the flesh! [Gasp!] Wristwatch on his wrist and telephones that plug into wall. Craziness.

Like I said, this book wanted to be a supernatural thriller or some kind of exploration of the spirituality of reincarnation (these topics are lightly brushed upon, but there's no depth), but there's no real connection with Pete's past lives, there was no more connection than if he had read them in a book. And his future is just as murky. Pete's a bit of a cypher, especially with his aspirations and his personal interests (beyond Native Americans; there's a fleeting reference to how he's a serious symphony buff, which isn't mentioned until the last quarter of the book).

All that being said, I enjoyed reading Peter Proud. It could have been a bit shorter. Frankly, it's not much more than a Twilight Zone episode, with some nice twists. 3.5 out of 5 stars.


  1. Excellent the book/saw the movie in college circa 1975...really, really creepy!!