Intended as a group biography, Mr. Williams’s book is at times more 'group' than 'biography,' its pages popping with the names of the well-known and forgotten, from the free spirits of the first generation to the variously hued leftists and ex-leftists of the 1930s and ’40s to the academically employed sunseekers of the 1960s ... Mr. Williams’s account is as breezy as a spring day by the shore, an approach that honors the spirit of his seashore colony even as it occasionally disregards the facts ... what’s ultimately more interesting than how much these writers and artists partied is how much they got done anyway ... although The Shores of Bohemia is structured as a kind of lament for the golden days before the Cape was overrun by RVs and clam shacks, Mr. Williams’s own effort is evidence enough that the old fascination still sparkles.
... atmospheric, gossipy ... His interviews with several dozen longtime Cape denizens, combined with his firsthand knowledge of the area, give The Shores of Bohemia an engaging immediacy. Loving descriptions evoke the golden light that attracted generations of painters, the kettle ponds nestled behind towering dunes, the golden sands fronting the Atlantic. You can practically smell the fresh fish roasting and hear the clink of ice cubes at the annual beach party celebrating the Perseid meteor shower thrown by Jack Phillips ... the plethora of names he showers on readers is a mixed blessing ... It can be difficult to keep all those names straight as Williams’s very loosely organized narrative zigzags through the years and a large cast of characters ... His aim, achieved somewhat at the cost of coherence, is to convey these bohemians’ sense that it was all connected: artistic experiment, political activism, sexual freedom, and intoxication of every kind ... meandering, affectionate.
A poignant chapter profiling the children of this milieu reveals the harsher side of gifted but often neglectful parents who lived primarily for art and alcohol. Erudite and evocative, this is an indelible snapshot of a time and place that inspired significant creative achievement.