Gloria Random is seventeen, gorgeous, intelligent, turned on, sexually experienced and rebellious. An aspiring author and screenwriter, she lives in Belle Woods, Michigan, an upper-middle-class Stepford Smiler suburb, with her rich, image-conscious mother Irene and colorless dad Fred (mostly out of the picture). Her saving graces are her neighbor John, the 19-year-old gay son of a famous psychiatrist, and her boyfriend Delano, editor of the local underground newspaper. When Gloria was twelve, her uncle revealed that she is illegitimate, the product of Irene's affair with a university professor who is a Communist and a Polish Jew. Horrors!!! Gloria was enchanted and now wants to meet her father. In the summer of 1969, things boil over. Irene refuses to allow Gloria to go to Woodstock. John receives his draft notice — a death sentence in those Vietnam War days. He's been planning escape for some time, and Gloria is along for the ride. Learning that her father's name is Glyczwycz, pronounced Glizwitch, she reverses it and names herself Witch Gliz, christens John "Roy", and embarks with him on a trip to New York and other places.
This was James Leo Herlihy's third and last novel and his last published work. It was called "the first major work of fiction of the Aquarian Age." It came out in April 1971.
- Bastard Angst: Inverted. Gloria is delighted. Her nominal dad Fred Random is an ineffectual weakling who married Irene for her considerable independent wealth — "His self-satisfied little tail must have wagged all the way up the aisle" — while Irene just wanted to avoid the social gaffe of having a child out of wedlock. Her real father sounds (and is) much more interesting."John, I just found out from my Uncle Mickey that I am a Polack Jew Bastard!" But careful! Careful this time not to squander the spell by repeating it too often. And then the phrase began to sink in, until it sank in deep, really deep, and became knowing. Knowing at last what you'd only felt before, that you were truly and truly and truly an alien in Waspland, an exotic foreigner even by blood! a stranger, caught — but only for a while! — in the land of the carpeted, insulated smile and the glossy stainless steel frown, where words were for hiding behind and not for showing who you were...
- Beware the Nice Ones: Fred, actually. Gloria returns from her travels to discover that Fred has not only left Irene, he's taken up with a woman much younger than himself, a black Puerto Rican with two children from a previous marriage, who's involved (though non-violently) with Black Power. The worst of it is that she's working-class!! Irene's response, like so many in that era, was to check herself into hospital for a face-lift, in a definite spirit of Go Mad from the Revelation.
- Black and Nerdy: Neyeurme (Nyoom), a commune resident who fancies himself The Smart Guy and makes Character Filibuster speeches.
- Commune: Gloria and John end up in an urban one, a house or large apartment on Canal Street owned by Peter Friedman, a young psychiatrist, son of a gifted Jewish rabbi-cantor. Residents work and contribute their earnings. Toward the end of the book, John moves to a similar place in Toronto.
- Designated Parents: Peter and his friend Doris are pretty explicitly that for the Canal Street commune residents.
- Diary: The whole novel is Gloria's diary/journal, except for one entry early on written by John while Gloria's sleeping.
- Drugs Are Bad: "Hard" drugs, especially cocaine and speed, are considered dangerous and not allowed in Peter's New York commune, although Peter feels terrible about banishing commune resident Archie Fiesta for dealing them. He soon asks Archie to come back, and Archie and Roy even have a brief affair. But Gloria has immediately perceived that Archie is "on a death trip, and he wants company", and he can't stay away from meth. It does not end well.
- Drugs Are Good: Marijuana and hashish are portrayed as beneficial, either to relax and have fun or as aids to insight; LSD is taken in an Erudite Stoner, Higher Understanding Through Drugs type spirit, with attention to set and setting.
- Earth Mother: Gloria figures she is John's one of these, and will be one in general some day. Peter's friend Doris fits the description perfectly, and Gloria takes her for a role model.
- Granola Girl: Sally Sunflower, the angel who leads Gloria and John to the Canal Street commune. Supposedly she's close friends with all the important Digger leaders and hip literary / music celebrities, Abbie Hoffmann, Allen Ginsberg, Frank Zappa, Paul Krassner etc., and was instrumental in all the important hippie/counterculture events. "In fact, she's known just about everywhere as one of the highest heads in all the tribes" although Gloria, who's spent a couple of years working for the underground press, has never heard of her before. "No one knows how many soldiers she's talked into putting down their guns."
- Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Nyoom and his very blonde, very white, very small fiancee, Mary.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Sara, the ghost who haunts the upper floors of Peter's house. All the residents know/feel there's "something" in that area, but only Gloria sees and speaks to her, and it's on a night when they're all taking LSD (Sara says she's had some, too). Sara speaks to Gloria again later, but it's in a dream. Or Was It a Dream?? She hears Sara warning her of something, which turns out to be real.
- Meaningful Rename: On learning her true father's name, Gloria immediately begins calling herself Gloria Glyczwycz, and plans to publish her novels as Gloria Glyczwycz-Random so that her mother will "break out in purple polka-dot hives." For her runaway adventure, she reverses the syllables and calls herself Witch Gliz, or just Witch. John, who needs a new name while he's hiding from the draft, becomes Roy when Gloria absentmindedly calls him that on the bus to New York; she says it might have come from "royal" because she sees him as a royal prince. After some time on Canal Street, in an intense emotional moment she writes her name as "Witch Gloria" in her diary by mistake, then decides she likes it.
- My Beloved Smother: Irene actually borders on being a Mommie Dearest.
- Parental Issues: Lots of them. Irene is hell on wheels, Fred mostly isn't there, John's mother is dead, his father's version of affection is a one-hour-per-week analysis appointment with him. Gloria doesn't tell her father who she is at first, wanting to get to know him as he is; she begins to, er, find him very attractive and vice versa; Peter has a bit of "Well Done, Son!" Guy as his dad was very Orthodox and Peter, while remaining Jewish, wasn't, and their relationship had been somewhat strained. Peter loves his dad though, and gives him a beautiful sendoff the night after his funeral:My dear father, Sam, Samuel, Rabbi Friedman, I've felt you here ever since this morning when we covered up your grave. You've been inside of me ever since. I pray that you stay with me forever. I pray that your honor increases my own. I pray that your strength will add itself to mine. My dear father, splendid cantor, I pray that whenever my voice rises to sing forth the God that lives within me, all your beauty and light and power will come forward to help me.
- The Power of Love: The Secret Zap. John makes this up. Characters use it throughout the book as a prayer and a kind of spiritual Energy Donation. The commune residents like it so much they start sending Zaps to absent friends before meals as a way of saying grace.It's called the Secret Zap, and I know it could catch on like wild except for one terribly fundamental snag. If I tell everybody about it, it won't be secret any more. Anyway, here's how it works. You see somebody that looks plain or sad or boring or mean, in other words somebody you don't really adore on sight, and what you do is you keep on thinking about him until you can imagine what his soul must look like, and when you think you've got it, you say, under your breath, "Thou art God."
- Sassy Black Woman: The prostitute who propositions Gloria early in the book is a nasty example; Jeanette is a scholarly one.
- Socialism: Hank Glyczwycz is one, and in a lengthy scene at the commune he explains what he views as what's wrong with America. Essentially: he's grateful to have escaped Auschwitz, come to America and become a citizen, but it's The American Dream version 2: giant fuck-you corporations and cutthroat capitalists run the show, while seducing ordinary folks to believe they too can have it all if they just work a little harder, etc.