“The Light Years: A Memoir” by Chris Rush— Coming of Age

Rush, Chris. “The Light Years: A Memoir”, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2019.


Amos Lassen

Chris Rush was born into a prosperous, fiercely Roman Catholic, New Jersey family. However, the family lived behind a shaky facade which falls down during the late 1960s, Chris’  was destined to fracture their precarious facade. older sister Donna introduces him to the charismatic Valentine, who places a tab of acid on twelve-year-old Rush’s tongue, proclaiming: “This is sacrament. You are one of us now.”

After being forced out of an experimental art school, Rush heads to Tucson to make a major drug purchase and, barely a teenager, he disappears into the nascent American counterculture. He looks to the communes of the west to be his next home and he spends his teen years looking for knowledge, for the divine, for home.

In “The Light Years”, we feel Rush’s  prayer for vanished friends and we become part of his odyssey filled with broken and extraordinary people. We feel “the slow slide from the optimism of the 1960s into the darker and more sinister 1970s.” This book is a journey of discovery and reconciliation, as Rush faces his lost childhood and himself.

 Rush shares his colorful childhood and adolescence as he travels across the country and back again, searching for truth, love, UFOs in New Mexico, peace, something that feels like God, and a home. Rush has a great story and he is also a great storyteller, together we get magic. Even with all of the brutality that he suffered in his life, he writes with grace. I feel sure that he was holding back tears as he wrote just as I was holding back tears as I read.

We can’t help but wonder how Rush survived but I also wonder about his parents who allowed him to leave. What about his resilience in becoming the respected, honored artist he has evolved into. He was the middle child of seven of a successful contractor and his complicated wife whose fiercely Catholic lives include raucous parties attended by members of the diocese of Trenton. The father’s work mostly involved construction of churches, but it is his alcoholism that drives the family. Each of the seven goes in a wayward direction, seemingly without any reaction from the parents.
Chris’s story shows deep involvement into the drug culture of the seventies, his being cast adrift while still in his teens and while he is coming to grips with his own sexuality. This tells more about his character than that of those parents who should never have had a child. I found it strange that Chris professes love for his parents and more understanding and acceptance than they are possibly entitled to.

I read this book turning pages as quickly as I could yet not wanting it to end. I loved reading about the family that I loved to hate. In Chris’ deeply Catholic family the booze flew as easy as the money. His mother ignored her children to shop and fill already bursting closets. Though she was aloof and often cruel with her words and was absent for most of his early life.

His father constantly worked and was a detestable especially when he drinks. Once he threatened Chris with a gun and knife. Chris was unaware of his father’s history until later. Chris bounced around different boarding schools, dealing drugs and eventually getting kicked out because he was caught kissing a boy in the woods. He tried to go home many times, but his parent’s house was one of anger, resentment and hostility.
The twists and turns of Chris’ life kept me reading but then, just when I wanted to know a bit more, the story ended. Now that I think about it, I must admit that this was a clever way to end and while I won’t say why, I bet many of you will agree. I believe that it is his ability to hope, dream, love even though he was damaged and scarred kept him from ever being totally lost.

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