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Flower Children: A Novel Paperback – June 3, 2008

3.2 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This wistful, episodic second novel by Swann (Serious Girls) is made up of vignettes about four sibling "flower children" whose parents are Pennsylvania farm country back-to-the-land hippies. Swann portrays the free-floating '70s coming-of-age of these four siblings—Lu, Maeve (who narrates much of the novel), Tuck and Clyde—who delight in running freely in the countryside, but grow embarrassed by the unconventional practices of their politically active, casual-dressing parents. Their parents, Sam, a Harvard graduate, and Dee, a gardener and artist, built their own house, and though they aim to raise their children in an ideal world "in which nothing is lied about, whispered about, and nothing is ever concealed," the parents separate, and subsequent storylike chapters delineate their children's sometimes rocky confrontation with the world of TVs, junk food and schoolyard cliques. The parents' transient love interests make impressions on the children: Dee's live-in boyfriend, Bobby, avenges the shooting of the children's dogs by local hunters; later, the children set out to rid themselves of Sam's latest squeeze, a glamorous but dim-witted psychologist. Swann wisely forgoes childlike stream-of-consciousness narration in favor of lean, direct storytelling, a choice that makes this more substantial and rewarding than the vast majority of coming-of-age novels. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

aWriting in lucid, crystalline prose...[Swann] captures the incongruities of the 1970s counterculture as seen from the point of view of a young child, the shifting attitudes the narrator and her three siblings take toward the adult world as they slip-slide from childhood into adolescence, and the incalculable ways in which the passage of time colorizes the past.a
a"The New York Times"

?Writing in lucid, crystalline prose...[Swann] captures the incongruities of the 1970s counterculture as seen from the point of view of a young child, the shifting attitudes the narrator and her three siblings take toward the adult world as they slip-slide from childhood into adolescence, and the incalculable ways in which the passage of time colorizes the past.?
?"The New York Times"

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 211 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (June 3, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594483116
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594483110
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,107,831 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Linda Bulger VINE VOICE on July 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Although Flower Children is clearly labeled as a novel, it's more like a collection of stories loosely strung together. Author Maxine Swann writes about a family of four children raised in rural Pennsylvania in the 1970s by hippie parents. Most of the narrative is in the first person from the point of view of Maeve, the second child, though some chapters are related in the third person.

The parents, Sid and Faye, are well educated and come from wealthy backgrounds. They choose to live in a house they built themselves, with unconventional plumbing, a dirt floor, and pot growing under the kitchen sink. The children are free to roam the hills and fields. Their babysitter plays cards with her naked friends and invites the children to join but "they'd rather not play." Sid and Faye separate and then there are the lovers to be dealt with as well.

The children, especially Maeve and her older sister Lu, try desperately to be conventional, in the face of some very embarrassing moments with both parents but especially their father. Their younger brothers are lightly drawn and don't become distinct characters; in fact they almost vanish from the scene in the last sections.

The entire book is told with very little penetration into the children's "inner workings." The writing is beautiful, lyrical, but it's hard to feel that you really know or understand the characters. The reader could be watching a beautiful movie with the volume turned all the way down, or in a foreign language with no subtitles. How did Faye and Sid choose this path?

...Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
I could picture the world evoked in parts of this book very well. I grew up in a similar time and place to the children here---among hippies with kids and tough troubled natives of a rural area. I think the characters here are written to a bit of an extreme---the hippies are more out there, the natives mostly seem to border on psychotic or sociopaths---but I recognized the general picture. The parents, rich kids who rejected their background, are also fairly believable, yet again, done to extremes.

However, the book seems to me to try too hard to be artsy and ethereal. The point of view changes all the time---sometimes it's a "we" for all four kids, sometimes a specific kid---and this isn't really necessary for the narrative. The various boyfriends and girlfriends of the parents drift in and out, without always seeming to serve any role in the book. The children's personalities never become distinct, and their reactions to startling events never seem true to life. There are too many neighbors to keep track of, each with a tiny cameo. In general, the book is a bit of a mess---a pretty mess, an interesting mess partly, but a mess, like the father's apartment always is.
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Format: Hardcover
I'm kind of surprised by the other comments here. Not only is this book written with the thoughtful, spare, articulate skill of a poet, it also kicks up a plume of dust that engulfs and transports us into the interior worlds of memory. It doesn't seem to me that the book was ever intended to be a blow-by-blow narrative of a group of kids growing up. The writing has a much more ambiguous quality, and moves easily through different perspectives and voices.

Swann's writing is big on imagery. This is certainly one of her strong points. Whether it's a girlfriend's blonde hair, the texture of mud dried on skin, or the first stirring of sexual arousal, she really knows how to write the image sensually.

She's also adept at capturing the prismatic universe of interior emotions. Especially those of the children growing up in a world that is alienating and borderless. I especially love the sequence where the mother's new boyfriend takes them around cutting down trees to block off roads that hunters are using with no thought that this will also block the kids' school bus route in the morning.

Flower Children reminded me a lot of my childhood. Not that my parents were hippies; but I think that a lot of the free-ideas of the 70's trickled into the mainstream and led to a lot of suspect child rearing, all in the name of free love, which unfortunately translated into adult selfishness. That's my take, anyway.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a good fiction that reasonably portrays some of what it was to grow up in a non christian home during the sixties in the USA. I was hoping when I ordered it that it was a non fiction, but it is a fiction. I found my self liking and disliking the personalities at different points in the story which gave the personalities a definite sense of reality even though it is a fiction.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I first read this book when I came across it in the local library. I went through it quite quickly, and ended up buying copies as gifts for my sister and a good friend. Anyone who grew up in the 60s and 70s will recognize elements in this story, which reads somewhat like a memoir, although it is fictional. Maxine Swann clearly has a talent and honesty that comes across in her prose. The story follows the childhood years of four siblings who grow up in a 1970s hippy home with a charming, embarrassing, and eccentric (to put it mildly) father and a beautiful though somewhat befuddled mother. The children's points of view come across credibly as they move through developmental stages in which they either totally buy everything their parents teach them or start to reject the family quirks and traditions in favor of whatever might seem to be more "normal" or socially acceptable. I recommend this book; Swann is a hidden gem of a writer.
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