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The ’60s and early ’70s meant political revolution to some; to others, it was an endless wild party. But there were those for whom the time was neither liberating nor exhilarating; rather, it was frightening and even constricting. Sandra Eugster grew up on a Virginia commune in the ’60s and experienced it in all of these ways, though her new memoir, Notes From Nethers, tends to emphasize the defects. Indeed, a reader might come away thinking that one mindless fad after another reigned supreme on the communes of this period. There are a few salient reasons for Eugster’s reproaches: She was a child who had no choice in her upbringing; she naturally craved stability and reliability from the adults around her, but she got the opposite. By 1977, when she escaped what she describes as chaos by going to college, communal life had crippled her socially. She could not distinguish between teasing and seriousness, had never dated, and was astonished that most women had not burned their bras—in fact, she didn’t know where to buy them or how to gauge their proper size. (She also didn’t know how to shave her legs, though this last crisis hardly seems catastrophic.) One can sympathize with her anger at her jargon-spouting mother for not foreseeing or correcting any of this—she was too busy with the latest hippie craze, which is a reminder of how much hokum prevailed back then. To her credit, Eugster doesn’t take cheap shots at the various easy targets, as a more conservatively biased writer would do. However, her depiction of the communards chanting “Hare Krishna” while naked in a homemade sauna is particularly dispiriting, and she describes several members of the commune falling under the spell of Guru Maharaj Ji, a charlatan whose popularity in the early ’70s signaled the decline of the counterculture. Eugster unearths many such artifacts that were better left buried: As the chapter titled “Placenta Soup” disturbingly suggests, alternative health and spiritual fashions, often indistinguishable from rank idiocy, were rampant. Primal scream therapy, a bit of therapeutic fakery appropriately consigned to the compost heap of history, reappears here like an unwelcome visitor. This silliness was disheartening enough at the time, but adults could brush it off as a distraction from more consequential matters of feminism, civil rights, environmentalism, or the antiwar movement. Eugster, however, was raised on a diet of spiritual and therapeutic quackery. Nonetheless, her praise for the tolerance and other virtues she learned on the commune brings to mind the special history of such experiments in this country, going back to Brook Farm, immortalized (albeit satirically) in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance, and other, more explicitly political 19th-century attempts at utopian societies. To do the subject justice, the communes of the ’60s should be seen in that context, not just as the trendy effluvia of a volcanic era.