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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun portrait of a commune in contemporary Wales
Wild Abandon offers a fun, slightly satirical portrait of a commune in contemporary Wales. The commune, Blaen-y-Llyn, has been running for twenty years. But in the timeframe of the novel just about everyone is trying to get out of it. The only one trying to keep everything together is Don, one of the founders and self-appointed leader, whose family are the focal...
Published on January 8, 2012 by J. Luiz

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dynamic characters in a flawed novel...
Sometimes you read a book and once you've finished it, you know right away whether or not you liked it. And then there are times when you finish a book and you have no idea what to make of it. Joe Dunthorne's Wild Abandon is definitely a book that falls into the latter category for me. Pieces of the story I really loved, but sadly Dunthorne took the story into some really...
Published on August 2, 2012 by Larry Hoffer


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dynamic characters in a flawed novel..., August 2, 2012
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Sometimes you read a book and once you've finished it, you know right away whether or not you liked it. And then there are times when you finish a book and you have no idea what to make of it. Joe Dunthorne's Wild Abandon is definitely a book that falls into the latter category for me. Pieces of the story I really loved, but sadly Dunthorne took the story into some really strange places, which definitely tempered my feelings overall.

Freya and Don Riley have lived in a commune-type community in the English countryside for many years, since they co-founded "the community" with two other friends. Their two children, Kate and Albert, have been raised living the philosophies their parents have instilled in all residents. But things are starting to change. The community is on a decline, down to a skeleton crew. Kate has enrolled in school for the first time and is hoping to get into college, and she has come into contact with "regular" students and cafeteria food for the first time. Albert has fallen under the influence of another resident's end-of-the-world philosophies. And Freya is tired of it all, especially her husband. Wild Abandon follows the Rileys and their friends through all of the changes and the chaos that results.

At its heart, this is a book about change--how we need it, how we crave it, but how we resist it at every turn. Dunthorne has created some very dynamic characters, but in an effort to give each flaws, he sacrifices their appeal. While the characters may exhibit behaviors you might expect from individuals who haved lived for so long on a commune, many of them veer into truly uncomfortable territory, which turned the book for me. There's no doubt that Dunthorne is a really talented writer--and I'm considering reading his earlier book, Submarine--but I found this book ultimately unsatisfying because of the behaviors of many of its characters. Bummer.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Cracker Jack first chapter soon gives way to trite story..., November 19, 2012
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This review is from: Wild Abandon: A Novel (Hardcover)
Full disclosure: I could not finish this book. I could not really proceed past page 80 or so. The first chapter sets a scene with sharp, engaging prose and a real perspicacity of the world under description.

But then the writer takes us into the banal backstories of his characters rather than a real focus on the conflicts facing them in the here and now. As his ambitions diminish, so too does his prose, almost as if it's not worth celebrating the descriptions of the marginal adult characters. Had we stayed always on the kids, in their world now, it might have been more enjoyable. Who knows? I was fascinated by the setting of the novel on a commune but maybe that was unfair of me -- the author seems to be after an examination of dynamics a bit more broad than that. Trouble is, his adult characters are broad, too, if not stupid.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Commune, February 24, 2012
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This review is from: Wild Abandon: A Novel (Hardcover)
There are some wickedly funny passages in Joe Dunthorne's novel, Wild Abandon. Set in a commune in Wales, the characters are quirky and the odd situations in which they find themselves make for some lively plot threads. By the end of the novel I realized that I had developed no empathy for any of the characters and found almost all of them to be weakly developed. Much of the novel involves their beliefs, including the imminent end of the world, and I found all that to be amusing, but Dunthorne's satire never quite satisfied me. Readers who like finely written dark humor are those most likely to enjoy this novel.

Rating: Two-star (Mildly Recommended)
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun portrait of a commune in contemporary Wales, January 8, 2012
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This review is from: Wild Abandon: A Novel (Hardcover)
Wild Abandon offers a fun, slightly satirical portrait of a commune in contemporary Wales. The commune, Blaen-y-Llyn, has been running for twenty years. But in the timeframe of the novel just about everyone is trying to get out of it. The only one trying to keep everything together is Don, one of the founders and self-appointed leader, whose family are the focal characters of the book. Don is a bit pompous, still dedicated to the virtues of home schooling, sustainable housing, and living off the electrical grid, but his wife, Freya, has had just about enough of his bombastic personality. His 17-year-old daughter Kate, is dying for a chance to live in the normal world, and actually runs away from the commune to live with her boyfriend's family in a standard suburban house for a while, and his son Albert is enthralled with the idea, promulgated by one of the commune's residents, that the Mayans were right and that a cataclysmic event will happen in 2012, and that only those prepared for it will be able to survive. Young Albert wants to start preparing for that event, but mostly in ways that let him act out his anger at his sister's departure, which he experiences as an abandonment. We also get to know Patrick, the moneybags of the operation, whose former success in the greeting card business and as a landlord now mostly bankroll the commune's operation. But after years of smoking too much pot, he's become excessively paranoid. In one funny scene, he goes berserk, running through the commune, thinking everyone's about to kill him, and breaking his ankle in an attempt to escape. In the end, he too is trying to get away from Don and put an end to his decades-long pining for a woman, Janet, who's given him mixed signals through the years but never returned his love and devotion. Throughout the book, there are lots of interesting insights about communal living - Freya the wife, for example, takes on the role of the community's butcher because no one else on the farm where they live, including her husband, has the guts to slaughter their livestock. The only drawback, at least initially, is that there are few sympathetic characters with a real dilemma that makes you want to keep turning the pages. At the outset, it's perfectly understandable why everyone wants to escape Don - he's controlling and full of himself. But, ironically, over the pages, Don becomes the most sympathetic character. His wife and daughter's attempts to separate are somewhat cruel and unfeeling, and over the course of the marvelous closing pages, when Don throws a blow-out party, hoping to lure everyone back, his attempts to win everyone over and then control his young son, Albert, who's gone a little crazy over this end-of-the-world idea and the separation from his sister, make Don the character you root for the most.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A typical family in a back-to-nature commune, March 6, 2012
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This review is from: Wild Abandon: A Novel (Hardcover)
Don Riley runs a commune, a back-to-nature community whose star is slowly fading. Not only is the commune slowly falling apart around him, but his family is drifting away too; his wife Freya is contemplating whether the marriage is worth saving, his teenage daughter Kate desires escape for mundane suburbia, and his younger son Albert has fallen sway to the end-of-the-world ramblings of another commune member. Meanwhile, the other eccentric members of the community face their own issues that may ultimately spell the end of the group. So what is a man to do when his entire life is dissolving slowly around him? Throw a party, of course!

Joe Dunthorne's new novel "Wild Abandon" is an interesting case study of what many of us imagine an "alternative lifestyle" like a commune may be like. And the most refreshing part about it is that people everywhere are pretty much the same: there's always something about life that we can find dissatisfaction with. Dunthorne has woven a quirky tale here, full of characters that you can't quite like, but that you definitely don't dislike either. It's hard to determine what exactly the point of this novel is; the ending offers very little satisfaction, but readers won't be able to deny that getting there was fun.

Originally published for San Francisco/Sacramento Book Reviews.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hoorah for Communes!, February 25, 2012
This review is from: Wild Abandon: A Novel (Hardcover)
4.5 stars

Did I love the entire aspect of a novel centered around a commune? Most certainly. Did Joe Dunthorne carry out such an aspect rather well? Yes. Was I absolutely gripped into the plot? As soon as I started reading!

Dunthorne's novel provides an interesting setting for what's basically a combination coming-of-age and middle-age-crisis tale. Though I couldn't identify much personally with breakaway Kate, maturing Albert, in-control Don, or tired Freya, I could easily see where most of their actions and feelings were coming from, and I was quickly drawn into their stories. Dunthorne's writing and characters are captivating, though I must admit I didn't find most of his attempts at humor all that hilarious. Most of the novel is concerned with the gradual breaking apart of the Riley family and the community, not the party advertised in the blurb. Not that I minded this at all; by the time mentions of the party were first made, I thought, "Party? What party? The story's going swimmingly without the promised party!" Really, the party is my one issue with Wild Abandon. Don and the commune's reasons for it were not very well explained or developed, and I thought the last 1/4 of the book, which was a coverage of the "rave," did not live up to the excellence of the rest of the novel. I also feel like I missed some of the main points of the ending. I would have loved to see how the community re-flowered (and recuperated) from their massive all-night celebration, but alas, Dunthorne does not continue the story that far. Oh, well. The coming-of-age and other pivotal times of individual identity development were done wonderfully à la Nunez's also rather odd Salvation City (only even better), Wild Abandon is one of my favorite reads this year, and I'm seriously considering joining a commune after college.

Disclaimer: I received my copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A nice idea falls flat., July 5, 2012
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This review is from: Wild Abandon: A Novel (Hardcover)
Telling truths goes a long way with me. In a couple of ways, Wild Abandon did that (although I'm not sure it was intended) then any redemptive aspects fall off a cliff.

There's a bit of truth said about the traditional roles of men and women in society. A woman just won't respect a man who abdicates his traditional role as provider especially while he clings to the perquisites of being the 'head of the household' (or commune, in this case). Oh, and usually, the chick will go with the guy with cash.

Although there are plenty of people who advocate for remaking society in many ways including turning us all into a commune-based society, almost all remakings of society end badly whether it's the French Revolution or Jonestown. Jacobians always play at being Pandora and are surprised at what happens when the lid is lifted. When they're put in charge, bad things happen.

That's not a political statement so much as a belief that human nature is a constant. Society, in many ways, is a way to deal with the bad parts of our nature. Tear down long-established structures of our society and those evil spirits are released. Wild Abandon shows this decline. It doesn't show the world we want to be but the world as it is.

While these truths are put forth and a story is kinda, sorta built around it, the novel falls flat. Maybe a bit more insight into the characters. It felt as if so many punches were pulled and points suggested but not made.

Maybe a plot would have helped. There wasn't much of one. I believe that shows in the ending which was incomprehensible and fantastic. It's the kind of ending that will garner nominates and awards for book prizes for whatever reason those folks like that sort of thing. Usually it's just a sign that the author had no place to go with the story and may not have even known where the story was going from the beginning.

Wild Abandon is just another example of a rule I'm developing. Very few novels should be written. Most novels should be short stories. Most short stories should be poems. Most poems should be a line on a fortune cookie.
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Wild Abandon: A Novel
Wild Abandon: A Novel by Joe Dunthorne (Hardcover - January 3, 2012)
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