I'm a brand new T.C. Boyle fan. I read Tortilla Garden and was hooked. Drop City was my second book. I loved my escape to a hippie commune and then later to the wilds of Alaska. Boyle introduces you to people who choose different paths and you feel like you get to go down those roads less traveled. So far his writing and his subjects of both books I have read really satisfies my deep curiosity about what it would be like to be "them". I just ordered my third book.
I've read a couple of his other novels and short stories. Budding Prospects was hilarious. DC is about a group of hippies living the communal "dream" on a ranch befallen on times, shall we say, less than its former glory. It's called Drop City and located Sonoma County, CA. The range of characters made this a great story. From starry eyed vegetarian dreamers and industrious git it done guys to loafers and downright miscreants, we soon find out that everyone's seeming agreement in the purpose of "freedom from the man" may only be an opportunity of free sex and drugs for many. When the lack of planning, sanitation, hygiene and adherence to building codes on the hippies' part attract the local establishment and result in the ultimate dismantling of the ranch, they decamp to ranch owner Norm's uncle's vacated homestead cabin in a remote area of Alaska. They just load up the hippie school bus and go, not realizing the effort nor sacrifice required by living in such an unforgiving place. What happens there makes a great second half of the book.
The first part of the book in Sonoma was pretty maddening to me. I came of age in the 60's and recognized many of these characters. I was really irritated and downright incensed at some of the things they did but could see the mind set in many them (aberrated though it was). The Alaska part of the book had it's characters as well. I cared about several and wanted others to get what was coming to them(not something good.) I hate to keep going on about the characters but this is what I love about Boyle. I'm talking about them like they are real people. He is great a making them that way.
A fascinating and engrossing fictional analysis of 1960's youthful idealism and the search for Utopia. I have often thought that `utopia' really should be a dirty word - you don't have to look far within modern history to find examples of suffering when people or governments tried to establish the `perfect world'. Surely it is self-defeating?
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.
Read this book! My favorite of TC Boyle's so far....set outside of Guerneville, California in 1970 on an inherited piece of land turned loose hippie commune...Dancers, poets, drifters and dropouts converge for a magical moment in time and eventually drift apart...the comedy of errors that any group of young bright eyed Utopian dreamers can relate to- you had to have lived it to write it kind of stuff.
I have read this book many times. What it's about as all of T.C. Boyles books are is about being American. As usual this is about how the same values or lack thereof underlie each of our separate cultures and ideas. Some are undone by them and some, rewarded.