Trashing, by Ann Fettaman
No month stated, 1972 Belmont-Tower
First published in hardcover in 1970 by Rolling Stone Magazine’s short-lived imprint, Straight Arrow Books, Trashing is the veiled autobiography of Ann Fettamen, aka Anita Hoffman (aka Abbie’s wife) writing under a pseudonym. I'm not sure if it was well-known that Hoffman was the author; the blurbs on the hardcover dust jacket make it clear that “Fettamen” is a cover name for a “well-known troublemaker;” one of these blurbs is even provided by Abbie himself. I've read somewhere that Abbie and Anita went on a cross-country booksigning tour, as Abbie’s Steal This Book was released at the same time, so both husband and wife had a book to promote – meaning Anita was making it clear she had written Trashing. So if Hoffman really being Fettamen was a well-known secret, then why even bother with the pseudonym ruse? Anyway, I digress.
Readers of Abbie’s afore-mentioned Steal This Book will remember Anita from the photos of her therein. A tall and slender brunette with a fondness for stealing groceries and smashing apart the machinery of the Man, she poses throughout the book in the latest insurrectionist fashions.
Besides being a primer on what Anita must’ve hoped would become the new model of American citizenry, Trashing is also pretty much the love story of her and Abbie. Only here Anita becomes “Ann” and Abbie becomes “Danny,” with the only change being Abbie’s trademark afro turning into shaggy blond locks. Other than that it’s the Abbie Hoffman you remember from your History Channel specials, spouting off about anything and everything and causing trouble for the establishment. Ann, who narrates the novel, meets Danny on the first page, and you'd be forgiven for thinking the novel’s some Harlequin Romance for the counterculture set; Anita writes about him in the most rhapsodic prose this side of Danielle Steele. They meet, Danny spouts some rhetoric, Ann swoons. They’re married a few pages later.
Trashing comes off as a manifesto of the Yippie movement. Published in 1970, it belies none of the cynicism which later set into the counterculture/revolutionary movement. Instead, the characters (and our narrator) talk blithely and at length about the coming war against The Man, how life will be so splendid once the Man has been destroyed. Stealing is fine, as long as it’s from those in power – which, according to the novel, even includes the youthful rich, as one disgusting scene features Ann stealing as many purses as she can at a socialite party, only to be congratulated by Danny. Hoffman writes the scene in heroic fashion – yet another blow against the empire! – but really it shows the backstabbing treachery which eventually killed the hippie movement.
Anita’s writing is pedestrian at times (lots of turgid dialog, pointless scenes), at others fantastic. One nightmarish setpiece involves her walking home from a friend’s place, through a dark alley, only to be kidnapped by three neo-Nazi thugs. A graphic, minutely-detailed, several-pages-long rape scene ensues, Hoffman writing with the precision and clarity of an objective observer. I’m unfamiliar with Anita’s life story, so I can only hope this portion of Trashing is pure fiction; no one deserves what her character goes through during these horrifying pages. But then a strange thing happens. The setpiece ends with a switch-up that makes me suspect the whole situation is a literary trick. Because, a few days after the incident, Ann feels well enough to be with Danny again. He’s distant, surly, obsessed with finding the now-disappeared neo-Nazis. Ann seduces him, and the words and descriptions Hoffman employs for this scene are mostly the same as those she used for the rape sequence. It’s fantastic how she thus toys with the reader. Is it a spot of literary innovation, light years away from the writing Hoffman otherwise displays in the novel? Or – more likely – is it just peacenik Hoffman’s way of bookending a scene of brutal sex with an act of actual lovemaking?
Things proceed in an episodic fashion. Ann and Danny go about a number of “happenings,” most of them Danny’s idea. These include impromptu plays in the park, throwing red dye in the city’s fountains on President’s Day, and in the longest “let's freak the straights” sequence, mailing a joint to 3,000 random people. This scene involves Danny and Ann requesting financial backing from a wealthy rock group manager. This scene is nearly laughable, all these decades later. Danny and Ann berating the rocker for not backing the “true” revolution (that is, fighting against the man in the streets), the rocker claiming that his revolution is “in the consciousness.”
From here we proceed to a Valentine’s Day orgy (now there’s an idea for Hallmark), exuberantly attended by Danny and Ann. Again, Hoffman’s detail here is as graphic as your average trash fiction. It’s like she wrote portions of the book with Penthouse Letters in mind. Was she just trying to spice up the manuscript? Did Rolling Stone demand the book be filled with as much sex as possible? I think maybe the idea is we’re to witness how Ann “grows” from a straightlaced conformist to a wanton, uninhibited rabble-rouser whose unafraid of anyone or anything.
The book culminates in Ann gaining revenge upon those neo-Nazi rapists, beating them to a pulp with Danny and a fellow revolutionary at her side. This is another tautly-written scene, with chain whippings and stabbings and boots to the face. After this things are rosy, until a friend of the couples’ posts a complete list of local narcs in an underground newspaper, with names and addresses (ie proto-doxing)...and everyone’s shocked when the cops arrest him and proceed to beat him to near death. Ann and Danny try to raise cash for his too-high bail, but when it proves unfeasible they instead plan to bomb the local precinct as a warning. This leads to some intrigue and suspense as they discover a co-plotter is really an undercover Fed. The novel ends with Ann and Danny escaping to Canada, leaving their fellow revolutionaries detailed plans on how to destroy the US economy (a plan which hinges upon corrupting the computer that runs the ticker machine on Wall Street).
It seems that Trashing was very much a product of its time, a forgotten period early in the radical movement when optimism still held sway. I have a feeling it was already dated the moment it was published. Hoffman wrote no other novels, and her only other publication was a collection of Abbie’s letters in the mid-seventies. She divorced him shortly after. It's a sad end to their tale; one can tell these two were truly in love, but with Abbie off in hiding and Annie raising their child “america” all by herself, it's not a surprising end.
Abbie died in 1989 (by suicide, though this is debated by those who knew him), and Anita died in 1998 (of breast cancer), but the world she depicts in this novel had died long before.