Drop City
T.C. Boyle
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Buy *Drop City* online

Drop City
T.C. Boyle
Penguin USA
512 pages
January 2004
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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The 1960's is an era often romanticized as a time of freedom, discovery and expression -- a decade when young people cast off the shackles imposed by older generations and found their own voice. But, as T.C. Boyle shows in his novel Drop City, freedom from the constraints of society isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Drop City follows the denizens of the titular society, a hippie commune in California. The group lives in drug-and-sex-soaked bliss, until a number of frighteningly real incidents threaten to tear the society apart. First, there's an alleged rape of a new commune member that causes resentment and mistrust in the group. Then, an accident and ensuing legal investigation forces the group to flee to Alaska.

In the early parts of the novel, Boyle intercuts between scenes of the commune and the life of Sess Harder, a tough, lonely man braving it in the wilds of Alaska with his new wife, Pamela. When the commune members arrive, it understandably causes a shakeup in the quiet Alaskan wilderness and further tests the loyalty of some of the more unreliable group members, most notably Ronnie (aka Pan), a resentful young man given to violent behavior.

Boyle realistically follows the conflict as it comes to a head. What's remarkable about the book is Boyle's willingness to present all of his characters as real people. It's interesting to see how two commune members, Star and Marco, gradually start to doubt their lifestyle and begin adapting decidedly "square" behaviors like monogamy. Despite their best intentions, these communes didn't really work, the book tells us, because societies generally don't work without order. But Boyle doesn't really make fun of his characters, misguided though they might be (although the Drop City leader, Norm Sender, is depicted as having few admirable qualities). His characters emerge as flawed human beings whom we can't help but sympathize with, even if we know their way of life can't last.

© 2004 by Amanda Cuda for Curled Up With a Good Book.

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