By Chet Yarbrough
By Eleanor Henderson
Narrated by Steven Kaplan
The subject of “Ten Thousand Saints” is family; i.e. it is about mothers, daughters,
fathers, and sons. The strongest family characters are women. Absent fathers weave in and out of Henderson’s story to show how absence wreaks havoc on family values.
In history, this is a story about the “me” generation and the consequence of 60’s and 70’s hippie communes and casual love; i.e. the story of “flower children”, the beginnings of punk rock, and the hallucinogenic’ drug experience. “Ten Thousand Saints” opens history’s door to the uninformed about children born in the 60’s and 70’s that are entering consciousness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States. (Looking at Henderson’s picture suggests the history of this era comes from research rather than experience.)
Henderson captures the experience of an alternative lifestyle adopted by some parents in the 1960s. She reveals the human consequence of a 1960s’ lifestyle that resulted in unplanned children that grew up in the 70’s and 80’s. Many who grew to adulthood in that time will recognize elements of Henderson’s story in their own lives. It is the age of “free love”; it is the beginning of the hallucinogenic’ era in which many tuned in and dropped out; some died, but most outgrew drug experimentation to become relatively responsible adults. Reading Henderson reminds one of how easy it is to make a wrong turn in life when one is young.
Henderson writes about three mothers and two daughters and how husbands, fathers, brothers, friends, and lovers change each other’s lives. Interestingly, none of the mothers are married but each has children that have been abandoned by fathers that are dead, incarcerated, or morally bankrupt. Henderson’s story infers that absence of fathers offers negative role models for sons and daughters that look to escape reality through drugs and/or outside family companionship. Search for purpose in life becomes unfocused; with focus returning only through crisis. Henderson creates crises by recounting episodes of drug use, teenage pregnancy, sexual confusion, crime, and punishment.
Henderson creates characters that seem destined to die young but are drawn back to living by crises and acceptance of responsibility; not all survive and not all accept responsibility but, like in real life, experience and maturity changes behavior.
“Ten Thousand Saints” is a history of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, but it is also a life lesson for every generation that ignores the importance of mothers and fathers in every human life. “Ten Thousand Saints” is well written, insightful, and entertaining. Sadly, the ending is imperfect; just like real life.