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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Drop City (2003) by T.C. Boyle

Book Review
Drop City (2003)
by T.C. Boyle

  Here's a classic random late list selection from the original edition of the 1001 Books list.  Drop City is a middle o f the pack work from a not-quite-elite author.  I mean T.C. Boyle is cool, I guess, but I wasn't feeling this tale about a group of hippies living in a commune in far Northern California called "Drop City."  The fictional Drop City is not to be confused with the real Drop City, which was a highly influential early commune in Colorado. The inhabitants of Drop City are a largely unsympathetic bunch, even by the low standards of counter-cultural types in contemporary literary fiction.  After a crisis with the local authorities forces them from their land, some of them decide to relocate to the wilds north of Fairbanks, Alaska, where a recently retired cabin dweller has gifted his land and cabin to the found of Drop City.

  More interesting are the inhabitants of rural Alaska the commune dwellers encounter, led by Sess Harder, who is the most vital voice among the various narrators.  Sess is wooing a woman named Pamela, who has taken out an ad in the local paper looking for a husband.  Once the hippies arrive in Alaska, their terrible timing, arriving just before the onset of the unbelievably brutal Alaskan winter, becomes clear and the third act unspools like a horror movie with Alaskan winter as the monster.

  Inevitably, I see Boyle identified as a comic author, and I personally pride myself on possessing and being able to recognize sophisticated dark humor, but calling Drop City in any way funny is a stretch. Perhaps calling it satire makes it easier to digest Boyle's lack of empathy for his characters.  Boyle is nothing if not acerbic, but Drop City didn't do much for me vs reading an account like The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, already accomplished.

 In 2018, the most interesting connection in Drop City is the link between the end of the commune era and the rise of the frontier/Alaska culture, which has only gotten bigger since 2003.  That world now includes a half dozen long running reality shows and one Vice Presidential candidate.   You could argue that the frontier cabin culture is the obverse of the 1960's counter culture- the right wing version of the left wing hippie world.  

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