Everyone is aware of the Manson Family story: orgies, acid, murder most foul that brought an end to the age of the peaceful hippie. It’s been talked about and studied probably more than any other murder in history and has become a cultural focal point that’s impossible to ignore, regardless of your feelings about the man. Dianne “Snake” Lake was the youngest disciple in Manson Family, just 13 years old when she stepped foot onto Charles Manson’s bus and started down a bizarre path that would lead to the history books.
The book starts pretty much right at the beginning of Dianne “Snake” Lake’s life story, as her beat-writer obsessed father decided to pack up the family’s belongings, trade their two-story house for a travel trailer and hit the road to California and freedom. Surprise surpriser, things don’t go well and they don’t even make it out of state. We follow Dianne’s earlier childhood as her parents, then just her mother, and then both of them again (Dad seems a bit undependable. Totally unheard of for a hippie right?) attempt to “drop out” of mainstream and become part of the cultural revolution of the sixties. It takes a bit to get going but once Dianne starts getting into the thick of the hippie movement, being present at event’s like the Monterey Pop Festival, things become much more interesting. It’s a very unique lens that she’s viewing this time period through as she comes of age and goes through some of the hardest years of her formative life, when you most need your family for support, and her family unit dissolves rapidly in front of her eyes. This leaves Dianne to drift around California, living in communes and non-traditional living arrangements until she ends up riding Charlie’s black bus out into the desert one day.
Once she’s picked up by the bus, Member of the Family spends a good amount of it’s time examining and describing day to day life and comings and goings of The Family, which is what we’re all here for. The book illustrates extremely effectively Mansons’s transformation from idealistic hippie pseudo-guru who fed people acid into full fledged race-war inciting, murderous cult leader (who also fed people acid). Though I’m obviously more than a couple decades removed from the true “hippie” movement, I’ve been around my fair share of modern day drug messiahs that exhibit some of Manson’s early flower child behaviour so I found this particularly unsettling. Member of the Family does a good job of putting you in Dianne’s shoes, right there with Charlie and his hippie contingent and helps to bring some understanding to how you could have ended up with someone so clearly deranged. The months and months of abuse, drug-enhanced indoctrination through Manson’s “talk to’s” and isolation all clearly have altered what little formative upbringing she had previously had. It’s no surprise when later on in the book while she describes her life afterward, that religious belief seems to play a large factor in her recovery.
As the inevitable murders draw closer, Dianne is ostracized heavily from the rest of the group, for reasons that only become clear to her later. We then follow Dianne through discovering what her friends had done on that night in Los Angeles, her flight from The Family into law enforcement care and then her eventual rehabilitation and life afterward. It’s good to see someone that actually got out of that situation and managed to live a normal life, as whenever you think of the followers of Charles Manson, images of them with crosses carved in their foreheads are usually the first thing that come to mind. While you probably know most of the details of the murder and trials already, being afforded such a particularly unique look inside some of the most bizarre moments western history has to offer is reason to enough to grab this book up.
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