It is 1970, and a down-at-the-heels California commune devoted to peace, free love, and the simple life has decided to relocate to the last frontier—the unforgiving landscape of interior Alaska—in the ultimate expression of going back to the land. Armed with the spirit of adventure and naïve optimism, the inhabitants of “Drop City” arrive in the wilderness of Alaska only to find their utopia already populated by other young homesteaders. When the two communities collide, unexpected friendships and dangerous enmities are born as everyone struggles with the bare essentials of life: love, nourishment, and a roof over one’s head. Rich, allusive, and unsentimental, T.C. Boyle’s ninth novel is a tour de force infused with the lyricism and take-no-prisoners storytelling for which he is justly famous.
T. Coraghessan Boyle (also known as T.C. Boyle, is a U.S. novelist and short story writer. Since the late 1970s, he has published eighteen novels and twleve collections of short stories. He won the PEN/Faulkner award in 1988 for his third novel, World's End, which recounts 300 years in upstate New York. He is married with three children. Boyle has been a Professor of English at the University of Southern California since 1978, when he founded the school's undergraduate creative writing program.
He grew up in the small town on the Hudson Valley that he regularly fictionalizes as Peterskill (as in widely anthologized short story Greasy Lake). Boyle changed his middle name when he was 17 and exclusively used Coraghessan for much of his career, but now also goes by T.C. Boyle.
This book is a gas! I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is hilarious and a great adventure story which you wouldn't expect from a bunch of goofy hippies. There are quite a number of books set around 1970 in counterculture milieus that give us the stories of radical political groups, who live in squats in the cities and who are busy planning abductions or bomb attacks for the good of mankind. Such as 'The good terrorist' by Doris Lessing, or 'My Revolutions' by Hari Kunzu. Fine books, but not hilarious in the slightest. 'Drop City' is a far cry from political activism and introduces us to this commune in sunny California where people are just lazing around, smoking dope and listening to psychodelic music all day long. Exactly like you would imagine the majority of the hippies in sunny communes in California were doing! Norm, the leader is the leader solely by virtue of the fact that he ownes the property and provides the cash to buy groceries. He is a great talker and has no problems getting the girls, although he doesn't believe in brushing his teeth or personal hygiene in general and his glasses are all taped up. We get to know a wide variety of the people sharing this sunny communal life, ranging from very sweet dopeheads, bad hippie parents (a bit of acid couldn't hurt the kid!), exploited girls doing all the cooking and offering their bodies in the name of sexual freedom, to quite a few genuine assholes. They all go on a great big adventure in a great big schoolbus to the far reaches of the U.S.A. It remains a really hilarious account to the end and, surprisingly enough, nothing really dramatically bad ever happens to them, but perhaps other people wouldn't agree with me on that. So, if you are in the mood for reading a truly funny book, read this book!
The evil side of the happy go lucky flower power unicorn rainbow time that wasn´t as peaceful as one might suppose.
What if hippies weren´t the friendly, peace-loving, open-minded, tolerant, etc great alternative to normal society, but just as bad as normal people with the difference that they do as if they were sooo alternative and progressive.
Building on this plot, Boyle offers another splendid description of the bigotry and mendacity that grows in each society. In this case, it is interesting to see how good ideals can be perverted to let the conservative, suppressing system seem better than anarchy, chaos and too much freedom.
I could imagine this book as a great kick-starter for more complex, philosophical, political, sociological, etc. discussions and, of course, debates, because it does nothing else than confronting a liberal, socialist dystopia with the standard mentality of this time and opening the endless, epic, political "mentality A vs mentality B battle until boredom and sleep kick in".
And the great thing is that it all comes with subtext, wit and strange happenings and no admonishing moral finger.
I'm prone to think less of a book that I can read while in a room with a TV on. Especially if on that TV is Kipper or Harry the Dirty Dog or Babar for the millionth time. But then maybe after a million times it's easier to tune out. And tune out I did, and tuned into Drop City. This was my first T. C. Boyle. For years I thought of him as some Tom Robbins type - a cloying insubstantial stylist - though I had never read even one of his words. This prejudice was based upon an annoying jacket photo, I think, in which he was wearing an annoying jacket. The jacket was an advertisement for cloying insubstantial stylist, with a magical realist veneer. I never gave him a chance after that. He even read once at a bookstore where I worked and I didn't even want to look at him. I hated the look of him. Even now after reading this I'm not a convert, though I now have respect for his ability to write a longish novel, a longish straightforward realist novel without a magical realist veneer, that I couldn't put down, through sickness and through health, through Martha Speaks and through Curious George.
I admired this book more for its details and set-pieces than for its larger themes and messages. In the larger scope of its themes there were few surprises. Of course there's in-fighting in a hippy commune, even as there are virtues that could recommend it. Of course if that hippy commune moves to Alaska for the winter things will not go well. So any larger intended social message was lost on me. I didn't want to hear it or I had heard it all already. But the landscapes described! The atmospheres delineated! And the storytelling from A to B to C. And the researched minutiae. These are what hooked me. Even the characters didn't enthral me. Or rather their development, or lack thereof, didn't. For a 450 page book the characters remained remarkably undeveloped, at least within the nitty-gritty of the actual words on the page, words applying specifically to them and their inner worlds. The characters were more like parts of the overall landscapes described, hippy-dippies and homesteaders inextricably linked to their environments; merged with their environments.
4 stars for sheer entertainment value and for its descriptions of hippy chick tits and grizzly bear violence trumping childrens programming.
Mein zweiter Roman von TC Boyle. Ich habe das Gefühl, dass man bei ihm nichts falsch machen kann, wenn man zu einem seiner vielen Bücher greift. Er ist ein guter, unterhaltsamer Erzähler in der gewohnt amerikanischen Tradition. Das bedeutet für mich: weit ausholend, detaillierte Personenbeschreibung und Vita, teilweise skurrile Handlung, stets liebevoll gegenüber seinen Romanfiguren, selbst wenn es sich um Unsympathen in der Geschichte handelt. Das erinnert mich schon sehr an Irving oder auch Stephen King, selbst wenn dieser in einem anderen Genre spielt.
Das Geschichte beginnt in Drop City, einer Art Freiluft-Kommune von Hippies in Kalifornien. Drogen, freie Liebe und Tagträumereien bestimmen das Leben, doch so ganz harmonisch ist das Zusammensein dann doch nicht, denn auch in der Kommune müssen Regeln eingehalten werden bei der grundlegende Versorgung und so entstehen die ersten Spannungen. Auch bei der freien Liebe kommt es zu Stockungen, denn irgendwann tritt der Bazillus der Eifersucht auf. Als dann die öffentliche Hand gegen Drop City vorgehen will, entscheiden sich die Freigeister für die Flucht in das ersehnte, freie Land, welches Alaska heißt. Hier soll es angeblich keinen interessieren, wo man campt und wem das Land gehört. Außerdem ist man näher an der Natur und kann von dem Leben, was sich vor einem bietet.
Solche Gedanken haben auch Sess und Pamela, echte Alaska-Bewohner, die sich am Thirtymile River fern ab der Zivilisation niederlassen. Doch sie kennen ihr Land und die Härte, die ein langer, kalter Winter von Temperaturen bis zu -40 Grad C mit sich bringt. Wie es der Zufall will, nistet sich Drop City North in direkter Nachbarschaft zu den Eremiten nieder. Da sind Konflikte vorprogrammiert.
Erstaunlich fand ich, dass TC Boyle sich nie über die Lebensuntauglichkeit und Blauäugigkeit seiner Hippies lustig macht. Wahrscheinlich weil er früher selbst in dieser Szene lebte. Dadurch wirkt die Darstellung auch sehr authentisch, wobei ich etwas vermisst habe bei der Beschreibung mit dem Umgang von Drogen. Das ist immer total easy. Ein Joint macht auch im tiefsten Winter in der selbst gebauten Blockhütte seine Runde. Keine Spur von Entzug und die Frustration über die unmenschlichen Bedingungen stellt sich auch nur langsam ein. Wahrscheinlich kommt mir das so extrem positiv vor, weil ich im Anschluss Rohstoff von Jörg Fauser las, was eindeutig eine realistischere Darstellung der Drogenszene war. Aber unterhaltsamer ist TC Boyle allemal, sprachlich hervorragend und vor allem wirklich genial übersetzt. Ich habe weite Teile des Buchs als englisches Hörbuch auf YouTube gehört und dabei auf deutsch mitgelesen, da die vielen Slang-Begriffe für mich schwer verständlich waren. Der Übersetzer hat das Buch sogar noch verfeinert. Großes Lob.
For me, some novels just blur after putting them down, and I don't remember anything significant about the book (a new friend potentially) I had spent hours with. A lot of crime novels are like that, but with Drop City I recall almost all the plot and the details. Such an interesting book about a class of people whom I especially loathed at the time, until I came back from overseas and got to know a few through work and friends of friends, namely, hippies, political radicals, religious nuts, females who seemed to be lost, macho men who were anything but. Boyle was one of those Haight-Ashbury types who kept one eye open while living high and produced a magnificent black comedic condemnation, which is compassionate also, of those times in the 1960's when all of us were mixed up, lost and headed in every direction but head on. (Don't go to Alaska without first reading Drop City.) I will read more T.C. Boyle, because of his accurate observations of people I have known.
This book is fuelled by flower power. Sadly I prefer books which are run on rocket fuel so this one did not deliver enough blast for my buck. This is the third TC Boyle book I've read and although I keep meandering back for more, I'm still yet to understand why.
Two tales make up the central thread of Drop City. Like two parallel spinal cords they prop up the floppy central core of the book. The first spine is the flacid, soaked in acid, hippy fuelled hurrah of Drop City. Most of the people residing in the collection of yurts, tree houses, flop houses and tents are a fairly reprehensible group of individuals who have a mild work allergy and are so lazy they're happy to live in a green and pleasant land surrounded by their own chickpea laden bowel eruptions. People.... When you are content to camp in fields of your own shit it is probably time to have a little word with yourselves.
By stark contrast, the second spinal cord propping up the book is one of ice and iron. The residents of Boynton, Alaska are survivalist, self sufficient and living off the skinny of the land. Alaska has very little fat. Life is hard and if you can catch it then you can stew it, eat it or wear it. Those who choose to live along the 30 mile river are spikier than snow shoes and harder than a frozen sliver of moose jerky.
You know at some point the peace and love lives of the dippy hippies of Drop City are going to collide, entwine, enmesh and embed in the peace (but a lot less love) filled lives of the trappers, hunters and self sufficient men on the 30 mile but it is just a matter of waiting and maybe tie-dying a few t-shirts until the story ponderously climaxes. The two parallel tales finally collide where and when you might imagine and hippy v trapper hijinx ensue. The hippies generally come out of it all looking half arsed, self absorbed and clueless. Kind of inexplicable, kind of predictable but still kind of readable.
(Full essay can be found at the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com].)
(Just like anyone else who is a lover of great books, I find myself sometimes with a desire to become a "completist" of certain authors; that is, to have read every book that author has ever written. This new series of essays chronicles that attempt.)
So first, a confession, that I still have a long way to go before becoming a completist of author TC Boyle; this is only the second novel of his I've read, to tell you the truth, the other one being The Road to Wellville, possibly his most famous because of the 1994 movie version starring Anthony Hopkins, Matthew Broderick, Bridget Fonda, John Cusack and more. Oh, but what a novel! Who knew that a contemporary author could paint such a vivid picture of events that happened nearly a century ago -- in this case, the formation of the various health spas in the upper Midwest at the turn of the 20th century, which for those who don't know were the groups who accidentally invented our modern breakfast cereals? In fact, this is one of the things that Boyle is most known for as an author; for his meticulous and exacting research into whatever time period he is writing about, and whatever crazy events were happening during that time period. Now combine this with Boyle's ability to effortlessly jump between comedy and drama, his masterful touch as a story plotter, and a personal writing style that is both unique and never manages to call attention to itself, and you've got yourself one very admired and award-winning novelist indeed.
And of the eleven novels that Boyle has now written, arguably one of his best-known ones is 2003's Drop City, mostly because it's about the American hippie movement of the 1960s and '70s, of which Boyle was a part of himself in his own youth (having gotten his Bachelor's degree in 1968, for those who don't know). And yes, just like Wellville, this novel also features a semi-wacky concept to propel the story forward; in this case, it's about a group of young people who start their own "free love" commune at the end of the '60s (the aforementioned Drop City), which gets its start in California after founding member Norm inherits a large chunk of land from a recently expired relative. And yes, just like Wellville, Boyle uses this semi-wacky concept for both humorous and dramatic purposes; to sometimes viciously make fun of how unequipped most of these idealistic flower children are to actually "live off the land," while still legitimately admiring their desire to do such a thing, and arguing why such a desire is ultimately a good thing that all of us should at least partly aspire to.
And of course, this being Boyle, the fun doesn't stop there; about halfway through the book, in fact, the residents of Drop City get tired of all the hassles of being in California (the constant police harassment, the endless hippie mooches), and decide on a whim to move to Alaska instead, where Norm has access to yet more land owned by a relative, a grizzled fur-trapper uncle who has recently retired and moved to Seattle. And thus does Boyle get the chance to expand the story even further, by introducing the existing population of that small Alaskan town as characters themselves, and by hopping back and forth between the two groups' storylines until the moment the hippies actually get to Alaska and the plots suddenly merge.
One of my very favorite comic novels, about a commune in 'Redwood City' California, Drop City. They say 'if you remember the sixties, you weren't there...' but Boyle clearly had both been there and remembered.I laughed until tears dripped down my face, remembering those days, both the charm and the not so flattering side of being 'free'--a time when boys browbeat girls into sleeping with them with philosophy and suggesting they were 'uptight,' rather than sweet-talking them. How certain people could always be counted upon to shirk the hard labor, on some sort of philosophical grounds relating to freedom, or simply lying low, but to show up regularly at mealtimes with their plates out.
When the commune falls afoul of county Sanitation Department (the downfall of many a commune), they decide to move to Alaska to ' live off the land.' These Drop City chapters are interspered with a whole second story about people actually living off the land in Alaska, showing us just how much skill and preparation and labor that takes, and how deadly serious that kind of life is, as opposed to the self-deluded, chaotic, 'everything that is, is okay' life of the commune. A collision course with Reality seems to be the order of the day.
Great great fiction and a terrific gift I've given over and over again.
The collapse of the sixties free love movement is perhaps the greatest defeat Western society has endured. The flower children believed in a world unshackled to government control and white-collar slavery, they believed in an autonomous collective of free love, drugs and sex. By listening to the Doors and smoking hash in Californian tepees, they hoped to bring about a social revolution, to overthrow the squares by doing nothing whatsoever. Then again, they only believed in this because their bourgeois parents had the misfortune to raise them in a time of plenty, giving them the freedom to run off and party in multicoloured pants with a wad of hard-earned notes in their tote bags. I hate hippies.
Drop City has little sympathy for the hippie movement as it cocks a snook at the idle brothers and sisters whose goal was, essentially, to avoid work at all costs and puff on drug pipes. Nowadays, hippies are known as PhD or liberal arts students, and the drug consumption remains the same. Centring on a large cast of caricatured free-lovers, Boyle’s detached narrative style has the surgical cynicism and breathless rush of Foster Wallace, with the compassionate satire of Kingsley Amis. Although his narrator goes a sentence or three too far with each description, he hits a note of buzzy mania, perfect for the vibrant rush of the era, though obviously quite infuriating in its excess.
As the commune (based on this real commune in southern Colorado) battles nasty Nam dropouts and a planned council demolition, the group hotfoot it to Alaska, where they take refuge in their iced-out bus and numerous well-insulated shacks. Star, the least loose of the women, is somewhat the centre of the novel, though Boyle’s narrator is more of your top-down move-the-marionettes model, less personally committed, and little genuine empathy is achieved for any of these freeloaders and grizzly weirdoes. It’s a fun ride, regardless.
Already a clear-cut five-star, even before I finish, TC Boyle's ripe and agitated revisit to the hippie extremes of the late '60s offers both a celebration and a slam. DROP CITY is the first novel of his I've tasted in a while; for years I'd sampled only the sharply-cornered ironies, their furniture often surreal, of his magazine fiction. Those always cracked the imaginative whip impressively, and trapezed their way through some breathtaking analogies, but this novel puts both those gifts on display and more, taking everything to sonar depths, scary depths, of character and culture. What the novel has to reveal about the exploitation of the counterculture's women, for instance, would elevate Boyle to the stature of a feminist icon -- except he always couches that exploitation in painful individual weakness and drug-addled confusion. The way he dramatizes the inarticulate fumbling of adolescence, and the mistakes it leads to, could make the author some sort of Guide for Youth -- except his monosyllabic exchanges, freighted with hormones and unspoken private histories, are always so hilarious, as are swift, palpable, perfect descriptions. Plus, jeepers, how the plot moils! I'm writing this shortly after getting through a central climactic brouhaha, bloody yet comic, each complication erupting out of the blue yet dead right for the moment and the people involved, and I had to sit back, yank my head out the 360-degree kaleidoscope, and ask: what has he been smoking?
The antiwar movement may be sprouting up again, but there's no climate for flower power this time around. The hippies who led America's last great protests against military intervention have been effectively co-opted by Old Navy, their radical message fermented in the stills of Madison Avenue down to an intoxicating syrup of consumerism. If that weren't enough to shoo the merrymakers off, a couple of major literary authors have recently turned the water cannons on them, blasting away their puka beads with a torrent of bitter satire.
The first was A.S. Byatt's Whistling Woman , which ended in a conflagration sparked by radical antiuniversity students. And now comes T.C. Boyle's Drop City, a rebuke of hippie culture that would make Abbie Hoffman put on a tie and write a humble apology on Crane's stationary. There seems little need for concern that the Age of Aquarius will assert itself on anything besides teen fashion, but these authors have assembled a phalanx of commentary to repulse any resurgence of naive optimism.
Boyle has long produced political novels that make you hanker for a good book club. In Drop City, which portrays a raucous West Coast commune in the 1960s, he shows the same elaborate command of historical detail and social milieu that he demonstrated so effectively in Tortilla Curtain, which dealt with Mexican immigration into California in the 1980s, and Friend of the Earth, which parodied radical environmentalists. But Drop City may be his most sophisticated work to date because here he seems more willing than ever to let the colorful characters he creates follow their own paths. The social studies final exam questions that risked taking over his previous novels — � la Sinclair Lewis — here recede into subtler and more unresolvable themes.
The story follows the aimless experience of a young woman named Star, who's escaped her stultifying suburban parents in the Midwest to join 60 cool "chicks" and "cats" in Drop City, a free-love commune in California. Their leader, a mildly charismatic trust-fund liberal named Norm Spender, enforces a policy he calls "LATWIDNO" (Land Access to Which Is Denied No One), which reminds one of another two-letter acronym that we can't print in the Monitor.
At first, "this was the life Star had envisioned," Boyle writes, "a life of peace and tranquility, of love and meditation and faith in the ordinary, no pretense, no games, no plastic yearning after the almighty dollar." But when we meet her after three weeks of "grooving" — eating, smoking, and sleeping in one big happy privacy-free family — "she was thinking she'd had enough."
The Drop City commune would be paradise if only it didn't contain any people. Three weeks of flatulent bean stew, drug-numbed headaches, and coerced sex dressed up in the lingerie of free love are enough to soil Star's Edenic dream.
Boyle is a Dickensian genius at the portrayal of hypocrisy. He zeroes in mercilessly on the human tendencies that complicate this social experiment, even while portraying their simple yearnings with real tenderness and sensitivity. Still, no amount of preaching against the constraints of "bourgeois morality" can free these people from feelings of attachment or jealousy. The invitation to kick back and relax does nothing to encourage construction of a badly needed septic system. And Norm's open-door policy inevitably allows some truly frightening "cats" to wander up to the trough.
This is an old tension in America, of course, and American literature. In the 17th century, the New World reignited ancient utopian fantasies that were quickly doused by war, disease, and hardship. And in the early 19th century, Nathaniel Hawthorne was already writing an incisive critique of his transcendental friends in The Blithedale Romance. Boyle's witty update includes considerably more drug use and sex, but his conservative conclusions are essentially the same: Moral license does not produce real freedom or satisfaction.
One of the novel's most interesting strategies is its surprising shift to Alaska about halfway through, which allows Boyle to demonstrate again his remarkable command of strange locales and characters. When Norm and the clan flee California for the edge of civilization, they eventually run into the last real American man named Sess Harder (Hawthorne would appreciate these names, too).
Sess lives in a little cabin he built himself, three hours by canoe from the nearest town. He's dropped so far out of society that he makes Henry David Thoreau look like a complete sell-out. After a courtship that would seem implausible if we all weren't recently conditioned by The Bachelorette, he marries a woman who's been looking for a self-sufficient man like him, and the two of them set to work in this unforgiving no man's land.
Of course, what interests Boyle (and us) are the striking differences and ironic similarities between Sess's survivalist holdout and Norm's hippie commune that resettles a few miles away. Once again, the clay barely has time to set in Eden before trouble slithers around both these hopeful homes.
"All the love and truth and beautiful vibes of Drop City" don't generate much warmth at minus 40 degrees F. But Sess's well-prepared dugout can't save him from disaster, either. It seems that no matter how far away people go, there they are. And that's a problem that can't be avoided by brute strength or social reconstruction.
For novels that matter, novels that grapple with the intractable challenge of how we're ever going to get along, Boyle remains one of America's most engaged and engaging authors.
Originally published in The Christian Science Monitor.
A 70s hippie commune called Drop City gets driven out of California and decides to try making it in Alaska. Wild and crazy! If you've ever dreamed of homesteading in Alaska, take heed and be prepared!
Some interesting observations about how human nature played a role in destroying their utopian dream: Though they espoused 'peace and love,' they frequently got into fights--many because, though they said they believed in the concept of 'free love,' jealousy erupted when their current love slept with another. Though the women did not want to be at all like their mothers, they fell into the traditional roles of cook and housekeeper in the commune. At least one of the men realized that without 'women' filling those roles, the whole system would fall apart. No one ever seemed to imagine that a man might do those tasks--except to 'grill steaks' on one occasion. Though they didn't want 'rules,' they began running into situations where leadership, rules and discipline would have been helpful. Like when 5% of the people did all the work. Like when a gang rape of an underage girl occurred. Like when thefts and vandalism became a problem. Like when plans for survival during an Alaskan winter would have been helpful. Oh, people!
#2016-usa-geography-challenge-week-two: ALASKA book-vipers-book-hunter: CITY
TC Boyle's novel about the Northern California commune hooks you from the start. The carefree lifestyle, readily available drugs, open sexuality and irresponsibility of this motley mix of nature-loving misfits come with a heavy cost. Bills have to be paid. Toilets overflow. Young children are neglected. Freeloaders show up and take without giving. As I read the first part of the book set somewhere around Sonoma I recalled Peter Coyote's autobiographical Sleeping Where I Fall, about his own involvement in the Haight Ashbury scene and communal living in the 60s. When the government finally moves in the commune whimsically decides to relocate to the wilds of Alaska. Getting back to Nature can be prove to be pretty daunting in a harsh, unforgiving environment. This is not Northern Exposure. More like a collective group version of Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild or Golding's Lord of the Flies. On the edge of civilization, day-to-day living can be treacherous and nasty. Well-written, graphic in its sketches of the Alaskan wilderness and engaging in its depiction of the rivalries and tensions within this remote Alaskan outpost the hippies attempt to infiltrate, this novel is a gem.
Drop City is a book, above all else, about adventures. You could say that Drop City is a book about hippies, a surprisingly sober insight into the inner monologues of a gaggle of full-fledged flower children as they celebrate free love under the summer sun of California and in the dead serious beauty of the Alaskan middle-of-nowhere. You could say that Drop City is almost as much about trappers, about a society of hard men and women who live off the grid, driven there by fear or stubbornness or madness, surviving and thriving in a place most civilized folks actively avoid bothering with. You could say it's about the wacky, tragic Far-East-philosophy-meets-American-North-West-Wilderness antics that the book promises early on and delivers in spades in the second half, but the sense of adventure that runs through it, of life's little hopes and great expectations and the sudden shock of carrying through with any of them; its grasp on the monotony of downtime and the uncomfortable disbelief of the morning after; of the scattershot miracles and tragedies that come time and again, and the fragile fear and anticipation that accompanies a conquered goal when you suddenly understand that you're expected to defend it now, and the way some people treasure that peace above all else while others seem unable to trust it or are even sickened by it...
Yeah, adventures. Woo.
Give it a go. It's an excellent and endearingly written novel by someone I've been told to attempt half a dozen times from just as many sources. Expect love, drugs, sex, bears, beauty, tragedy, and all that jazz.
This is a proper, juicy, big novel. I love Boyle's writing style (feels somehow like old-fashioned storytelling) and it's one if those novels you can just sink into. Saying that though, it is a bit long.... And I think I'd have enjoyed it more if I'd read it on a long train journey or something, as it's difficult to get back into if you're just reading a few pages here and there.
It's a book about a commune that moves to Alaska - I felt cosy reading about fires and stew in cold cabins, but the whole thing has an edge of darkness and imminent disaster. The ending is kind of something and nothing. I hope they're all ok out there!
I was very dissappointed by T.C. Boyle on this one. A sad depiction of communal living. Having lived in the midst myself, and visited other communes (intentional living places) all I can really say is his rendering is pure hogwash! I believe the man is a pig, he's lazy and lacking in ability to do proper research.
He seemed to find pleasure in making subtle innuendos using the norm of stereotypical stigma(s) in his writing. I found his book ridiculous. The stigma around the counter culture needs to be diminished, not hardened, and his writings would foster hate as all squares & people who are not in the know would like to foster.
I know a hell of a lot more about grass roots counter cultural movements, and those of us who do know may have a duty to report more on it. This is the only beneficial thing to come out of reading his despicable book...I was actually sickened by the way he portreyed my tribe, and the sort of people I was raised around.
I really wish I had never had the experience of reading this book. I was pretty much horrified, page by desperate page, and only kept reading it, to see if before all his b.s. ended there would be some kind of enlightenment glommed, on his part.
T.C. Boyle failed miserably to gather the right information, to give the world a look inside the cult of personality we would call intentional living, now, once known as the commune in America.
All in all, an extremely *Massive Fail* to communicate the truth about hippy culture!
ZeRo Stars....in fact Minus Three Stars, you ridiculous man.
I'm not sure quite where the appeal comes from, honestly. I read The Tortilla Curtain, and found it to be a funny enough novel about Californian dipshits... Drop City was likewise a tale of colliding cultures, in this case commune-dwellers and Alaskan survivalists. I'm really not sure what Boyle was going for. The idea of a certain set of ideals crashing headlong into the reality of life on the last frontier was already explored by Into the Wild well enough and thoroughly enough that the subject almost feels closed to me, and while I think Boyle was trying to be funny, it was a bit of a fail. Also, we already know about the contradictions and sexual inequality that plagued hippie culture -- again, this is nothing new, and it just feels like recycled tropes at this point.
If you look up ‘hippies’ in the index of Todd Gitlin’s book The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage you’ll find the note: “See counterculture;” and under counterculture you’ll find a smorgasbord of topics, from rock music to mysticism, that will make certain baby-boomers swoon with nostalgia. But for those of us who grew up in the ‘80s—people who’d rather dine with Alex Keaton than Abby Hoffman—hippie culture exists in a series of colored-many-times-over childhood memories: a clattering VW van rambling across a stretch of rural interstate in a riot of colors and hand-painted peace signs, a torchlit drum circle aboriginizing the woods of a nearby park, and long-haired fellows with guitars slung over their shoulders thumbing rides from local gas stations. My own recollection of hippie culture is more domestic. It’s the dim basement of a Midwestern tract-house built in the late 1970s, shagged out with the kind of carpet you could write your name in, and framed by shelves full of eight-track rock cassettes all reflected in the glory of a disco-ball that hung from the ceiling like an all-powerful orb. It was the basement of my babysitter, the one whose shaggy blonde husband in tie-died shirts only added to the strange, just-beyond-their-hippie-years mystique of her house.
As far as American subcultures go, the hippies were but a flash in the pan. This is sometimes easy to forget given not only the way in which they have been romantically portrayed in American pop culture, but also the way in which critics of those same cultural performances have made the hippies into the archetypical embodiment of their generation. TV guide, reviewing Jonathan Berman’s 2006 documentary Commune about a hippie commune on the Black Bear Ranch in Siskiyou, California, for instance, says that the experience of its communards “speaks volumes about the attitudes and experiences that shaped the decade.” It doesn’t take much scratching at the surface to come to the hollow absurdity of that statement. The hippies, a small set of mostly white, upper middle class individuals, were but a small fraction of the roughly 22 million Americans that came of age in the mid-1960s. And the number that actually lived on communes was even smaller. To herald the hippie movement itself as a genuine and influential American counterculture is to declaim history from a (left) side view mirror rather than from the fuller picture of a rearview mirror.
It’s an interesting fact of culture that sometimes a single fictional portrayal can more adequately recapture a passed reality than those of a hundred chroniclers. Such is the case with T.C. Boyle’s Drop City, a novel about a group of hippies that are forced to relocate their free-living commune from northern California to northern Alaska. The story is told via five main characters who each employ a close third person, hand-off style of narration whereby each in turn sets the narrative table for the next. It’s a pleasing effect that makes for a fast and engaging read. Three of the narrators, Pan, Star, and Marco, are hippies themselves looking respectively for adventure, escape, and opportunity. The other two, Sess and Pamela, though anything but hippies, are looking for the same things, albeit through an even less conventional, off-the-grid lifestyle in the Alaskan bush. One of the central questions that drives the early plot forward is how these two sets of people, so different in disposition, will get along, and what potential calamities might ensue.
As far as calamities go there’s plenty throughout the novel. Some of them, such as the slightly underwhelming final sequence of events, are about as predictable as the car crash that spells the end of Drop City South earlier in the book. But many more are unexpected and genuinely exhilarating, such as when a wolverine decides to lunch on a pair of goats, or when a local knuckledragger crashes the midnight sun of a wedding party. Sometimes the misadventures are just plain funny, particularly one episode in which a bus full of hippies beat the tar out of three pale-skinned, muscle-bound, flat-topped, pickup-driving University of Oregon football players. Yet how refreshing that the many unpredictable incidents strung together across the novel’s 500 pages are not so out of the ordinary that the reader is forced to suspend large amounts of disbelief. Plotting is clearly one of Boyle’s strengths as a novelist, so much so that at times the book reads like genre fiction. Compare this with Michael Chabon’s plotting in The Yiddish Policeman’s Union and Boyle is clearly the more accomplished craftsmen.
Boyle’s characters, on the other hand, are irregularly developed and in sometimes seemingly random fashion. The two female narrators, Star and Pamela, are particularly well rendered but Sess is overly romanticized. Marco is the most emotionally complex character. Despite his proclivity to violence we are ultimately won over by his dirt-under-the-fingernails work ethic and, even despite one out-of-character scene near the end when he proves unable to put down a trapped coyote, Marco is Boyle’s most interesting character. Pan, also known as Ronnie, is made out to be a shifty, unreliable, and unlikable character from the very beginning and as the book nears its conclusion the only question that remains is whether or not he will share the same fate as the cretin Joe Bosky, that walking pile of alpha-male buffoonery on which Boyle spares no hyperbole. As for Iron Steve, he must surely exist for this beautifully evocative sentence alone: “He might have been tight lipped and more than his share of odd, not yet thirty and already a proto-coot, drunk more often than he was sober, but for all the raw-boned mass of him and the hard Slavic architecture of his face, he was gentle and good at heart.”
There’s a number of brightly glistening sentences like that one sprinkled throughout Drop City, a fact that only adds to the book’s overall shine. But it must be noted that they are the exception to the prosaic rule. As a whole, Boyle’s writing is lamentably overexposed. For the genre-reader who rarely ventures into the unpredictable wilds of literature, this will be a welcome quality. The prose is straightforward and leaves little to the imagination. One can read this book with very little pause for reflection. When Boyle does tap into a more literary vein, the results are mixed. “Twice she’d felt some inexpressible shift in the current of things and looked up to see a train of wolves clipping through the crusted snow on the proscenium of the riverbank.” That’s one of the 14 karat sentences , the generality of “things” notwithstanding. “The night was a dense and private thing, working through the motions of its own unknowable rhythms,” on the other hand, is fool’s gold. Except in the minds of the most linguistically impoverished, there’s no excuse for rendering ‘nights’ as things. But careful because ‘things’ can quickly turn into this: “the cramped space of the meeting hall buzzed with an insectoid rasp of timbreless voices sawing away at the fabric of the afternoon.” Flamboyant literary parody? Unclear, but pack your neck brace.
Whether literary or genre fiction, truthfully, matters little. The point here is social commentary and Boyle’s ability to communicate acerbic truths about the nature of mid-20th century American society and the folly of youthful idealism is remarkable. His depiction of the ‘slanted porch’ of race relations on the commune, and how it mimics race relations in the larger society, would make John Steinbeck proud. He also parodies the cult of leader worship and the parasitic nature of the feckless celebrity class through characters like the aptly named Norm and the primadonna Premstar. And finally, how can you not laugh when Drop City North, in the middle of winter and more than a hundred miles from the nearest pharmacy, is infested with pubic lice, aka crabs, and one character (read: a 20-something male) gives us a new take on the old saying there is no such thing as a free lunch (nor apparently free love)!
I graduated from high school in 1968, the height of the free-love/summer-of-love/hippie movement. And living and growing up in Utah, I always thought that I had missed out on this. I didn't go to San Francisco and live the life-style in Haight Ashbury and Berkeley and no, I didn't make it to Woodstock. But after reading Boyle's superb novel, Drop City, I'm actually glad that I missed out on this misguided movement.
The novel takes place in 1970 and alternates between the tale of a California commune near the Russian River and a group of trappers and bushmen living and surviving at the farthest outreaches of Alaska. The group in California is living the life most of them always wanted, dropped out from society with no laws or rules, smoking pot and using LSD, and sleeping with most anyone willing. But then the leader of the group, Norm, who owns the ranch they are living on, runs into trouble with the local community when he is unable to pay his taxes. As a result, he comes up with a plan to move the entire group to Alaska where his uncle had a cabin used as a base for his trapping operation. Well, they make it to Alaska using an old school bus but do they have the stuff to survive? The group is mostly naive about the hardships there especially when it gets to 40 below zero in the winter.
The book is full of memorable characters including Sess Harder and his wife Pamela who have dropped out of society in Alaska but can achieve their existence through hard work. Sess and Pamela do make friends with some of the hippie group but conflicts with others still exist. The conditions of the commune in California and later in Alaska were pretty deplorable as described by Boyle. This included a lack of sewer facilities, meager food and subsistence, a lack of bathing by the group, and the inevitable conflicts that come up. As I said earlier, I'm glad I missed out on this experience! Overall though, this was an excellent novel full of emotions from humor to grief. High recommendation.
This book is quite an achievement. Set in the 1970s in both CA and Alaska. Mr. Boyle got the tenor of the times exactly. Why not 5 stars? I think the book was longer than it needed to be and the cast of characters a bit too large and diffuse. Having said that, the book was a page turner especially once the scene is set and the characters and the story begins to unfold. The descriptions of the wilderness really came alive. It shows how little we know about what it takes to survive in the wilderness and how coddled most Americans are today.
The work compares those living off the grid by choice in a very harsh environment calling for planning and serious commitment to it and a group of "back to nature" hippies who think they will be going to the Garden of Eden with snow. There are six main characters whose interests and personalities collide.
The work would have been 5 or maybe 6 stars if the story were whittled down a bit so that the main characters were the focus and their stories more intense. The large cast of characters diluted the story a bit for me.
Omg! That was soooo amazing man. This made me feel as though I was born in the wrong decade, of this I am certain! I was meant to be apart of this hippy commune. I am sure I would have contributed more then my fair share and added a different perspective of knowledge that could have helped them battle their cruel Alaskan winter. This author captured the heart, mind and soul of the Hippy so perfectly! This was my FAVORITE read of the year by far. But of course all good things had to come to an end, and man, did this really came to a horribly bitter end. I am sad and hoped there would have turned out to be a better outcome, but the odds were against those carefree flower children!
Drop City? More like Drop - alright I won't go there. Needless to say I was not pleased with this read. T.C. Boyle has apparently won prestigious literary awards. This is the only book I have read by him and it leaves me wondering how this is possible. Drop City is the story of a 20-something girl, nicknamed Star (ugh...), who joins a hippie commune in the early '70s in California that eventually chooses to pick up and move to their leader's uncle's cabin and land in Alaska. The book is simultaneously the story of the newlywed Sess Harder and his experiences both with his lifelong enemy and with the arrival of the hippies near his lot as the cold winter sets in in Alaska. Here's my three style gripes: One: He overuses the conjunction "and" so much both in narration and dialog that it becomes distracting. Two: He presents characters' thoughts right within the narration so it is sort of first person sometimes even though these first person thoughts that only one character has are presented in the third person voice. Three: The entire story often has two important events happen at the same time. Throughout, he presents one and then tells the reader about the other through character discussions in the fallout. In other words, he never abandons linear chronology; that is, until the climax, when the style abruptly changes. We see what happens from Joe's point of view, then we rewind and see it in Marco's point of view. Then Boyle returns right back to linear chronology for the remainder of the book. This is weak writing. Most importantly, Boyle is clearly mocking the hippie-way throughout the book, but the characters themselves do not learn or suffer too much at all. He does not present any real thought through the action of the plot. Instead, he peppers in sarcasm and cynicism in a most blatant and unimaginative way: by just constantly adding asides within the narration. The book's a bummer cats. A real bummer.
Another fantastic ride with TC Boyle and one I am sorry to see end. I am never disappointed with his books.
“He was in a dream state almost, all his senses heightened as if he’d dropped acid, alive to every shading of the path ahead, to the taste and smell of the compacted air, to the swift whispering rush of the dogs’ paws in the snow, to the great and marvelous engine of this own breathing and the unconquerable beat of his rock-steady heart. This was his moment, this was his connection, and he felt it in every cell of his body.”
T.C. Boyle casts an eye on the doomed idealism of hippie culture. The frustration that young people had with the authoritarianism and conformity of mainstream culture may have driven them to pursue lofty goals, which in some cases translated into real and lasting social change i.e. women's lib, gay rights, etc. plus a truly inescapable cultural legacy. That legacy has been the cause of much self-satisfied back-patting. (Nothing encapsulates Boomer self-satisfaction like the existence of a 36-hour, $700 commemorative Woodstock box set.) The downside of all that cultural glory, aside from high-profile tragedies like the Manson Family killings, gets a lot less attention, but the reality is that the counterculture was not always so nice. The ethos of Free Love created a breeding ground for sexual abuse, spiritual searching bred religious cults, political protest led to dangerous radicalism, etc. In Boyle's book, good old fashioned naivete and incompetence leads to a deflated utopia, as real life and human nature both undermine the enthusiasm of a "brother- and sisterly" commune aiming to stake it out in wild Alaska. Full disclosure: I was raised in the leavings of a failed hippie commune myself, so I know fair and well the kind of people being written about, probably better than T.C. Boyle himself does, so it's a bit close to home for me. I'd say that he may have a lot the details right, and importantly, doesn't use the absurdity of those details for too easy of a comical target. Those people - their entire generation - may have failed on a lot of levels, but it wasn't for lack of giving it their best shot.
What to make of this book? It's two parallel stories about the 60s in Alaska. One: a hardy homesteader couple. Two: a bunch of hippies, "persecuted" by the law in Mendocino county, who decide to go back to the land, or at least drive a few thousand miles in a giant school bus and set up camp. No points for guessing which social experiment lasts longer.
It's a sort of unaffectionate look at the pomp and circumstance of the 1960s. I can certainly sympathize with Boyle's derision - it's been a few years since I read this, but I do believe that at one point a bunch of locals beat the shit out of the longhairs for playing a Van Morrison song a couple hundred times too many. But as targets go, hippies are slow-moving and a little too easy. Pamela is a little too humble and Sess is a little too manly. It's a great book, though. I felt like I was right back in college. The internal dynamics of the hippies are fun to read about: how they divide up the labor, what they do when they're bored, the petty infighting that comes with communal life. Some of them are even genuinely well-meaning, and not in it solely for the opportunity to molest minors in the name of free love.
Eine wunderbare Geschichte ganz im Boyle'schen Style über die Hippiekolonie Drop City, die von Kalifornien nach Alaska zieht und sich dort den Herausforderungen der Natur stellt. In ausgezeichneter Qualität wird der Alltag des Kommunenlebens geschildert von den Drogen über freien Sex und Versorgungs- bzw. Entsorgungsproblemen bis hin zum Lagerkoller. Alle Figuren sind sehr dicht und detailgetreu entwickelt.
Leider war für mich der Roman etwas mühsam, was immer gleich daran zu erkennen ist, dass ich für ein Buch mehr als 1,5 Wochen benötige. 200 Seiten weniger würden die Qualität des Romans erheblich verbessern, ich muss wirklich nicht an jedem einzelen Jointzug, jeder ACID-Limo beteiligt sein und brauche auch nicht an jeder Raststätte auf dem Weg von Drop City Süd nach Alaska einkehren. Mit einer gezielten Reduktion der Seiten und Szenen würde die Geschichte erheblich an Tempo und Elan gewinnen. Aber dass kennt man ja von Boyle eh und auch von vielen anderen Amerikanern, ohne überbordende epische Breite gehts einfach nicht.
Fazit: Guter Roman super Story, aber ein bisschen weniger davon wär besser gewesen.
I am so happy to finally be finished with this book.
Boyle is a gifted and imaginative writer, but I really disliked most of the characters in this book and couldn't wait to put it down each day. I forced myself to continue with it because it's on the 1001 books you must read list.
Drop City, the fictional one in this story, is a commune in California whose members decide - after a young girl is raped in their presence, and the authorities are cracking down on their lack of plumbing - to move to Alaska. The Drop City crowd quickly learns how ill-equipped they are for life, that the fantasy of living off of the land is, in reality, not for them. In the same way, I realized that the fantasy of being a hippie in the 60s perhaps would not have been my cup of tea. I quickly grew tired of the free-love, as Star, one of the hippie-chicks, figures out early on, is a better deal for the guys than the girls.
Late 60s, early 70s. A commune of sorts, Drop City, in Northern California and then Alaska. The "guru", Norm, is a 30-40ish guy who owns property and thus can host this group.
These folks are proud of being hippies, proud of being "free", proud of their (supposed) lack of hangups around sex and drugs. And there is a lot of both, as most of the members just d whatever whenever. Only some of the women and a few of the men do 80% of the work or more. And they know it, for the most part.
The first half of this book was OK. When they went to Alaska, though, it was more of the same, only in -40 degree weather. Which just seems soooo impossible when there are no roads and you need a boat or snow machine (they don't have one) to get to town. They got no game...what are the 18 that stay the winter eating?
This book was just too long, and the wrapping up was really not satisfying to me.
Drop City was a solid read. Tracing the journeys of members of a commune and the lives of those native Alaskans they encounter, the novel is both social commentary and strong narrative. Evocative both of communal living and the pioneering lifestyle, the prose was fluid.
More interesting, though, was the decidedly apolitical view of both lifestyles whch are outside the status quo. While pointing out the limitations of homesteading and relative anarchy, one never felt the author was lauding one choice over the other.
The more interesting of the two trajectories was the story of Sess and Pamela, a woodsman and his new wife who advertised for a husband. If there was one fault with the book it was that their relationship was less explored than some of those in the commune which became predictable after a while.
The story itself is unique. I throughly enjoy the way T. Coraghessan flawlessly incorporates two seemingly opposite plots and binds them simultaneously. But.... it's too drawn out. Overall it's a bit bland!