Last of the Moccasins

by Charles Plymell
(1971)
   First published in 1971 by City Lights Books, Last of the Moccasins is an impressionistic novel which chronicles charles plymell’s experiences in and out of San Francisco in the early 1960s when the “Wichita Vortex” collided with the Beat Generation. Though sharing some thematic and stylistic concerns with other works in the Beat pantheon, Plymell’s novel is a unique expression that is shaped by the picaresque sensibilities of the car, bop, and Benzedrine cultures of the Midwest. The critic Hugh Fox wrote, “The only ‘beat’ novels that approach the stylistic stature of Last of the Moccasins are, in fact, naked luncH and (to a much lesser degree) Kerouac’s doctor sax.” However, it could be argued that Plymell’s energy and outlook are more in tune with manic rhythms of the works (both aural and written) of seminal Beat Neal Cassady.
   Plymell began work on Last of the Moccasins while attending the writing seminars at Johns Hopkins University where he had been awarded a fellowship. When the novel was published in 1971, it was praised by William S. Burroughs who wrote, “From the first paragraph the reader is drawn into the writer’s space. Plymell has as much in depth to say about death as Hemingway did and a lot more to say about it in terms of the present generation.
   . . . He is saying a lot about life, which has become the chewed over leftovers of death. . . .” The death of Plymell’s prodigal sister Betty early in the book foreshadows the premature demise of not only the psychedelic scene in San Francisco but also the entire American experiment in the 1960s. As Plymell restlessly shuttles between Kansas and California, the novel “keens with an alternating sense of apocalyptic portent and hopeful renaissance.” Similarly, Plymell’s focus shifts seamlessly from the intimate to the panoramic, an iteration in structure and tone of nature’s double helix, which the author perceives as a central metaphor for the cycle(s) of life.
   Last of the Moccasins also addresses issues that would be further developed in Plymell’s subsequent poetry and essays: the despoilment of the environment, America’s karmic debt to the Native Americans, and the dehumanization of the worker. In one moving passage describing a wheat harvest in Kansas, Plymell paints an elegiac portrait of middle America fading beneath a dying sun. Plymell’s sharp insights into the Vortex resonate today: “When the Indians lived there, the sun was God. Now there is an unseen God. This God is everyone’s extreme image of himself as righteousness personified.”
   Last of the Moccasins was reprinted in 1996 by Mother Road Publications. A reproduction of a phantasmagoric painting by Plymell’s friend Robert Williams adorns the cover of this edition. This mesmerizing cover intimates the wild ride that awaits the reader.
 Bibliography
■ Atherton, Wayne. “Interview with Charles Plymell.” The Café Review (Summer 2001): 17–23.
   Laki Vazakas

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

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