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The Last Road Rebel and Other Lost Stories
Gilberg delivers a debut memoir about coming-of-age in 1950s Ohio. The author serves as a guide to the seemingly quintessential Midwestern town of New Bremen. He shows readers a time and place in which everyone seemed to know their neighbors, from the doctors who made house calls to the farmers who needed extra help in hay season. Hardwood trees stood in abundance, so that “riding a bicycle down most of the town’s streets was like going through quiet, leafy, shady, green tunnels.” Of course, it was also a time of Cold War paranoia and fear of a polio epidemic. Gilberg also offers up a firsthand account of a time of change for young people, with rock ’n’ roll making its assault on school dances and car enthusiasts pursuing their passion for customization. It’s this latter aspect that gives the book its title and takes up a great deal of its narrative focus. Specifically, the author tells of how he helped to found an automotive club called the Road Rebels (“New Bremen was going to have a car club! Just because”) and shares their many adventures. It's the story of a kid growing up without a plan, mediocre grades, no money, and finally finding his way.
First-time author Gilberg’s memoir of life growing up in the 1950s in the small town of New Bremen, Ohio, is like taking a leisurely Sunday drive down a country road. The impetus of his book was a reunion in his hometown of friends he hadn’t seen since 1958, “fifty-five years earlier.” The Road Rebels were teens who, inspired by James Dean and the early days of California hot-rod car culture, decided to get “some shirts, bumper plaques, and a club name” to be both “cool and different from all the other teenagers in New Bremen,” as well as show the town that the Road Rebels “could be organized and do something important.” As a group they helped stranded motorists and organized road rallies and car shows. Gilberg’s life revolves around the group, as well as typical teenage activities like school and dances, but his memoir isn’t a warmed over American Graffiti. He delivers a sympathetic look at his desire to leave his small town for the bigger world of Ohio State University where he first hears Joan Baez’s “incredible, crystal-clear, haunting voice” drifting down his apartment hallway. While he ends up in California designing microcircuits for mainframe computer companies, his heart clearly is back in Ohio. Gilberg’s book beautifully evokes 1950s small-town America. (BookLife)

The book is most intriguing when it includes the sorts of details and anecdotes that less personal histories often overlook, such as the fact that the official Road Rebel shirt had “Safety Club” embroidered on the left sleeve or how the author earnestly participated in the retrospectively silly Civilian Air Patrol Ground Observer Corps. The book isn’t all Leave It to Beaver moments, though; death comes to New Bremen in horrific ways, and the author realizes that he eventually must move on to bigger and better things. Some of Gilberg’s reflections, such as an account of him and his friends playing with carbide cannons, don’t offer as much excitement as others do. They do, however, help to create a more complete picture of what it was like to be alive in those bygone days.

A highly personal and readable remembrance that paints an appealing picture of the past.

Finalist in 2017 San Diego Book Awards

  The Last Road Rebel and Other Lost Stories was named a Finalist in the 2017 San Dieg Book Awards in the Memoir category.