The Light Years is a joyous and defiant coming-of-age memoir set during one of the most turbulent times in American history
Chris Rush was born into a prosperous, fiercely Roman Catholic, New Jersey family. But underneath the gleaming mid-century house, the flawless hostess mom, and the thriving businessman dad ran an unspoken tension that, amid the upheaval of the late 1960s, was destined to fracture their precarious facade.
His 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 an unceremonious ejection from an experimental art school, Rush heads to Tuscon to make a major drug purchase and, still barely a teenager, disappears into the nascent American counterculture. Stitching together a ragged assemblage of lowlifes, prophets, and fellow wanderers, he seeks kinship in the communes of the west. His adolescence is spent looking for knowledge, for the divine, for home. Given what Rush confronts on his travels—from ordinary heartbreak to unimaginable violence—it is a miracle he is still alive.
The Light Years is a prayer for vanished friends, an odyssey signposted with broken and extraordinary people. It transcends one boy’s story to perfectly illustrate the slow slide from the optimism of the 1960s into the darker and more sinister 1970s. This is a riveting, heart-stopping journey of discovery and reconciliation, as Rush faces his lost childhood and, finally, himself.
Praise for The Light Years
“In this vibrant memoir, artist Rush recounts his strange and colorful childhood and adolescence . . . Rush’s storytelling shines 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 place to call home. This is a mesmerizing record of his journey through adolescence.” —Publisher’s Weekly (starred)
“As mythic and wild with love, possibility, and danger as the decades it spans, you’ll read The Light Years with your breath held. Brutal, buoyant and wise to the tender terror of growing up, Chris Rush has written a timeless memoir of boyhood in the American wilderness.” —Emma Cline, author of The Girls
“Brace yourself: To enter The Light Years you must be willing to be changed. It is, in the end, about the one question we all must ask ourselves—How does one live? In the end the answer is, always, love. You could wait until you are ready to read this radiant book, though how will you know when that moment arrives?” —Nick Flynn, author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City
“Darkly comic and told with fire and wisdom, The Light Years is an iconic American story, the mad love child of Jack Kerouac, Timothy Leary, and Augustin Burroughs.” —Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, author of The Fact of a Body
Chris Rush is an award-winning artist and designer whose work is held in various museum collections. The Light Years is his first book.