Edie: American Girl by Jean Stein is apparently one of the classic books on the sixties. After reading it, I can see why it’s garnered so many accolades.
Prior to picking this up, I only really had vague notions of who Edie was, that all centred around her position as muse/decoration to Andy Warhol. Painstakingly compiled from interviews from the many that knew her, whether they be family, friends, or hangers-on (both famous and non-famous) covering her family history, childhood, explosion on to the New York scene and her five minutes of fame, and her swift descent into drug addiction and finally death, this book told me everything I could have ever possibly wanted to know about Edie’s scene, although the woman herself remains a little more mysterious (although I am certain that I would have found her tiresome to be around).
Before going in, I would have bet you any amount of money that the most interesting parts of the book would have all revolved around the Factory. But that was before I knew anything about her insane family and upbringing, and it will be the first half of the book – taking in her extremely wealthy and eccentric wider family before narrowing it’s gaze to her immediate family and her pig of a father, who definitely needed every bone of his body to be repeatedly broken – that will stay with me long after the book has been returned to its shelves. Whether bullying or belittling his children, drugging them for his convenience (so they wouldn’t be able to tell that they’d walked on him shagging someone who definitely wasn’t his wife), abandoning and cutting off those children who’d been admitted to mental health institutions, or forcing others into them to strengthen his control over them, I don’t think I remember a single instance of Francis doing something remotely nice or kind for anyone. I spent rather a lot of time highlighting the shocking shit this man pulled, with the end result being that the first half of my book is now essentially one big highlight (and this review has only narrowly avoided being just one long rant about how much I hated him).
The second half, going into Edie’s New York life, (so-called) friends and losing battle with drug addiction was a different kind of interesting. 18 year old me, who already had a long-standing thing for the sixties and seventies counter-culture scene despite having been born many years too late, would have no doubt viewed this part slightly differently, but middle-aged me mostly viewed this scene and its people with sadness, somehow surprised at just how many were already hopelessly lost to addiction, exploited by the predators that surrounded them and abandoned by their ‘friends’ as soon as someone newer and shinier showed up.
You don’t have to be particularly interested in Sedgwick herself to enjoy this book. If you have ever been at all interested in the counter-culture, the New York art and music scene and the many personalities who flitted in and out of them, then this is the book for you.