Side Effects: A Footloose Journey to the Apocalypse

Written by S. Montana Katz
Review by Janice Derr

Full of postwar optimism, a newly married couple from New York set out to travel the country by motorcycle. When they reach California, they are charmed by the warm climate and intellectual stimulation and vow to live there someday. Little do they know that their plans will be altered by the birth of their first child in less than a year. Side Effects is told from their daughter’s point of view, as she documents her parents bouncing back and forth between California and New York to find financial stability and happiness.

The novel is a meditation on the idealism and promise of the 1950s and 1960s juxtaposed with the impact those decades would have on the future. New technology, especially things that were supposed to improve life and make it easier, and the host of new products invented during the era, were eventually found to have dangerous environmental consequences. The narrator laments how seemingly innocuous products like TV dinners and plastic water bottles were pumped full of chemicals that may have caused her cancer.

Katz’s style is so detailed and personal that I had to check at one point to see if I was reading a memoir or a novel. The stream-of-consciousness narrative is difficult to follow initially, but you do get used to it. A novel full of nostalgia, but not the sugar-coated kind, this book is an excellent exploration of society, politics, and the environment.