The Wild Girls

Written by Erica Abeel
Review by Jo Ann Butler

The United States in the 1950s could be stifling. Then the Beat Generation provided a shocking foretaste of widespread rebellion which broke out in the 1960s. In The Wild Girls, Erica Abeel takes us on a kaleidoscopic exploration of the Beats via an unlikely guide.

Brett Eigerman stands out in Foxleigh College’s freshman class in 1954, a talented dancer who realizes that despite acclaim she receives in New York City theaters, her career will be short. Still, she wants more from life than a preppie husband with a trust fund, and gravitates to other girls who “pitched their tent outside the nicey-nice culture.” These talented friends include photographer Julia Vosburgh, who turns her own nude body into art, promising writer Audrey Curtiz, and Rinko Park, a quota-filling Asian who echoes Yoko Ono’s career.

In 1955, Brett hears Allan Ginsberg’s subversive poem Howl challenge the conformity sucking the air out of America and destroying the best minds of his generation. Obscenity charges send Ginsberg and his associates fleeing to Europe. After graduation and a disappointing series of jobs and romances, Brett follows Ginsberg to Paris. Her goal is to document the Beat Generation’s sex- and drug-fueled, mind-expanding creativity. Instead, she is drawn into it.

The Wild Girls recreates those passionate decades, when cultural revolution remade America and lucky dreamers saw visions come true, or the unlucky were ruined by them. Ms. Abeel’s background in dance and journalism clearly provides her with an insider’s viewpoint, and her love for gritty women who refused to conform is clear. The Wild Girls will resonate with anyone who witnessed the cultural revolution of the 1950s and 60s, or wishes that they had. I loved it.