Richard Melo,
Jokerman 8
(Soft Skull, 2004)

Jokerman 8 is billed as "a rockin, rollin, wild-eyed journey through the American eco-saboteur movement and a restless multistranded narrative about two pasts that can never be reconstituted: happy childhoods and forests." Reviewers have noted how it moves through the decades with some wild characters and a collective "we" used for the first-person narrative. I'm not one for gimmicky books, so I freely admit to being apprehensive about reading and reviewing Jokerman 8. Also, I'm a liberal and a capitalist at heart, and I believe at working for change within the system, so how was I going to get along with a brand of renegade environmentalists?

Richard Melo manages to pull it all off. Music ties the adventures of the eco-saboteurs together, from the Beatles and a daughter named Jude to U2's Joshua Tree, complete with a several-page analysis of "With or Without You." The lyrics and allusions in Melo's prose made me want to run out and listen to these albums.

His characters are off-the-wall but always shine with their true colors in a way that endears them to the reader. I admired Willie Shoman's principled approach to his tree-spiking jail sentence, as he chose not to kowtow to the man to get a shortened sentence. I cracked up at the dedication of Eleanor Cookee, who wanted to set up a Wildlife Legal Cooperative, but couldn't find any lawyers in California to donate their time, since time is money. "She does find, however, lawyers who are willing to donate money, which is, in turn, used to hire lawyers. Frequently, she hires back the same lawyers who donated the money in the first place." Once the machine is in place, Eleanor loses interest and looks for new challenges.

Melo's book is one that has a generation-spanning audience. The characters are children of the 1960s, but many of their ideals are still held by today's young activists. It's certainly not for everyone, but pick this up if you have an open mind or want to remember a time when you cared more about saving the world than your own personal gain.

by Jessica Lux-Baumann
10 June 2006

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