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Drop City Hardcover – February 24, 2003
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With Drop City, T. Coraghessan Boyle offers proof that he has become one of America's most prolific, gifted storytellers. Set in the 1970s, Boyle entertains readers with the denizens of "Drop City," a counterculture California commune that welcomes anyone wanting to live off the grid, use drugs, and practice free love. Boyle sublimely captures the sociology of its rebellious members, who doubt the sincerity or beliefs of newcomers, express some insecurity about nonconformity, and chastise outsiders while remaining oblivious to their own hypocrisy. Marco, Pan, Star, and other "cats" and "chicks" live hassle-free until dissention and cries of racism mount amid increasing run-ins with the local government (a young girl is raped, installation of a sewage system is mandated, a mother lets her toddlers drink LSD-laced juice). Seeking refuge, the citizens move north, to Alaska, to reinvent their utopia, but soon learn the natural environment is more unforgiving of a lackadaisical lifestyle.
Drop City is funny, evocative, and well-paced, shifting between the hippies and the Alaskan locals--primarily Sess and his new bride Pamela (a city dweller who arranged stays with several trappers over a few weeks to determine whom she would marry)--until the two cultures collide. Balanced between plot and character, Boyle excels at describing the physical world and his characters' interaction with it, whether portraying the harshness (or sheer beauty) of the Alaskan wilderness, the simple survival routines of its grizzled inhabitants, or the sounds wafting through Drop City: "the goats bleating to be milked or fed, the single sharp ringing note of a dog surprised by its own hunger, the regular slap of the screen door at the back of the house--and underneath it all, like the soundtrack to a movie, the dull hum of rock and roll leaking out the kitchen windows." Truly American in spirit, Drop City is a strong novel of freedom and those in pursuit of lives of liberty. --Michael Ferch
From Publishers Weekly
Boyle has a wonderful eye for the comedy of imposture when the self-deceived themselves practice deception. His ninth novel, which centers on the travails of a hippie commune, Drop City, in the early '70s, gives him plenty of poseurs to work with. Drop City, in Sonoma County, Calif., is run, in a manner of speaking, by a gold-toothed purveyor of Aquarian notions, Norm Sender. The Drop City family includes Pan (aka Ronnie) and his high school pal Star (aka Paulette Regina Starr), who have fled from the East Coast together; two rather predatory black dudes; and a variegated crew of longhaired "cats" and flower-child "chicks." Star, sweet but often naive, is the opposite of Pan, beneath whose free love patter lurks an unnerving rapacity. Star soon hooks up with Marco, whose solid virtues are concealed beneath his veil of hair. When "The Man," in the person of the Sonoma County sheriff's department, condemns the property, Norm, who has inherited other property far away in Boynton, Alaska, proposes a tribal migration north. Meanwhile, the news in Boynton is that local trapper Cecil "Sess" Harder is marrying Pamela McCoon, after an eccentric courtship ritual. Sess's major problem lately has been a violent feud with Joe Bosky, the local bush pilot. When the Drop City hippie bus rolls into Boynton, a comic clash of civilizations ensues. Building utopia upriver from the Harders, Drop City's denizens discover that polar climes demand rather drastic behavioral adaptations. Boyle understands the multitudinous, sneaky ways innocence insulates itself from ambiguity-but in this novel he leavens that cynical insight with genuine sweetness. While the Day-Glo of the hippie era has long since faded, this novel brings it all back home-and helps us see how much in the American grain it all really was.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Drop City traces in all its gory details the collapse of the Counter Culture, as represented by one small commune in 1970/1971. The characters in Drop City are the hard core hippies - the purists. Thus there is LSD laced fruit juice on special days for all, including the children; the hourly and endless joint passing and the openness of Free Sex.
The novel raises several points. First, to be a hippy was mostly about being white and middle class, and we see that generally the African American of the era had issues and problems beyond the understanding of anybody else. The free sex philosophy probably forced many young "Hippy Chicks", through peer pressure and societal expectations, to act out sexual approaches or risk being branded as uptight or becoming, worst of the worst, "Just like your mother". There was nothing feminist or empowering about that. Also, the counter culture fashion, in both clothes and behaviour, and the constant need to be `hip', is both endless and amusing. It reminds me of the line from The Big Chill when one of the main characters says "I'd hate to think it was all about fashion".
I remember people I used to know from the 1970's who were 'very cool' because they had tried LSD and sometimes used the word `man' at the ends of sentences. I have often wondered what on earth ever happened to these people, both men and women, as time passed and we all matured. Do they now have children and do they sometimes regret those earlier choices? Were they lucky enough to be one of the majority who suffered no long-term ill-effects?
Yet this epic story is about so much more. The second half of the text, which I just loved, follows their journey to Alaska where they try to set up a second Drop City. What an experiment and how idealistic is that? I have been to the Yukon and I found the descriptions and scenes to be true and accurate. I believe it captures the harshness and claustrophobia of an isolated Alaskan winter, probably an impossible and unimaginable chore for most of us. There was a reason why residents there generally used to refer to anywhere that is not the Yukon/Alaska as `The Outside', as the extreme conditions and environment simply cannot be matched anywhere else.
Most of the themes of Drop City have been covered before - eg Tom Wolfe - but I found this modern version to be both welcoming and humanising. I cannot help but wonder how history will judge this weird little sub-culture, long after all of us are gone, which flourished for a brief time and held such high, if not misguided, hopes.
An excellent read and recommended . 9/10.
The writing is excellent, propelling and catchy with fine turns of literary phrase. Enough quality to keep this reader happy for 500+ pages. The characters are vivid, engaging, and up close and personal. I liked getting to know them, and I wanted more at the end. Always a very good sign. Not a lot happens, except the rigors of dealing with the wild, but that's life. For another novel with very similar themes and a hell of a good read too, try Adventures in the Alaskan Skin Trade by John Hawkes. Bear encounters, dogs in the snow, glaciers, and a get back to nature extravaganza in the Alaskan outback that will also hold you enthralled if not exactly encouraging about heading out in the wilderness with just your trusty blade.