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Drop City Paperback – 1 Mar 2004

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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; New edition edition (1 Mar. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747568073
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747568070
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 189,441 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

With Drop City, TC 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, chastise outsiders while 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 the pursuit of liberty. --Michael Ferch, Amazon.com --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


'Acutely observed and perfectly pitched, this exhilarating novel rides emotional cross-currents like a raft on rapids’ -- Time Out

'Boyle is America's most acerbic, catastrophist-realist writing today ... Full of pure invention. A glorious read’ -- Scotsman

‘Blistering take on 70s utopianism from one of America’s greatest contemporary storytellers. The hippie dream laid bare, and then some’ -- Uncut

‘Riveting … lays bare the raw reality behind the city-dweller’s romantic dream of living at one with nature’ -- The Times

‘Writing on the top of his form, he’s produced a satisfying and hugely enjoyable novel’ -- Daily Telegraph

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By N. Greenwood on 30 Nov. 2006
Format: Paperback
There are two strands to this book, the hippy bit and the Alaska bit. They weave nicely together. I found the hippy section twee, so hold on till you get to Alaska. I've read T.C. Boyle's short-stories, which are somewhat negative, but this book finds a nice balance. My literary siblings characterise this book as a satire, but I think the writing places nature, character and survival at the centre. There are parallels with Jack London.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Eileen Shaw TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 13 July 2011
Format: Paperback
This might not be the greatest novel you'll ever read but it is a gripping story - the story of what "tune-in turn-on drop-out" really meant. Star (real name Paulette) leaves home with her boyfriend Pan (real name Ronnie) to join a commune - a farm where anything goes. Star is in her element at first: she milks the goats, learns how to make cheese, helps with the cooking, sleeps with the cats. No, the cats, man, you dig? After a while, however, doubts creep in and in between smoking a lot of hash and definitely inhaling, Star begins to question how free some of the `freedoms' really are.

This story pauses for a while and we learn about Cess who lives in the wilds in Alaska, and has answered an advertisement to be considered in a three-way competition as a husband. This process is successful for him, but this is by no means as straightforward as it sounds as a deeply-held set of resentful feelings is unearthed. Meanwhile, the commune has come up against the law in California and the rest of the novel is about how the commune comes to Alaska in a big yellow bus, (posing at the Canadian border as the entourage and members of The Grateful Dead) and what happens to them and some of the inhabitants of the semi-hostile township, near which Cess and his new wife Pamela live, and where the commune settles. There are a number of entertainingly rendered personalities among the commune members, all of whom are subtly and often brilliantly developed, and there is a gripping sub-plot in the feuding Alaskans.

I read this book non-stop - it is a lot of fun as well as genuinely rooted in its time and place. Immensely enjoyable.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 10 Mar. 2004
Format: Paperback
I liked the funky cover of this book (two hippies cavorting in the grass), opened it up and discovered I liked the opening sentence even more. Set in 1970, the book charts the meandering journeys of a hippie commune as they’re thrown out of the Californian sunshine into the wilderness of Alaska. The Age of Aquarius is coming to an end, as the differing wills and motives of the commune members surface.
Somehow, the book reminded me of Lukas Moodysson’s film “Together”. Boyle’s take on the far-out philosophies of year ’68 is just as gentle but satirical, though with a more violent twist to it. It doesn’t take long before the story has got you hooked: especially the build-up to the culture clash between the hapless hippies and the outback trappers is terrific. My one criticism is that sometimes plot lines seem to peter out into nothing, which is a shame since most of them could have been developed into something cool.
But hey, what does that matter? Overall, this is a groovy read, man.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Swanmaster on 29 Oct. 2012
Format: Paperback
I think what the previous three reviews on this page miss is T.C. Boyle's scintillating style. I'd say I was an avid and widely read reader, so it's rare for me to be so utterly spellbound by a novel, but spellbound I am. Boyle weaves the fabric of his novel with a freshness and immediacy that more than brings the characters and their environment to life. I felt immersed in their world; I felt I could see, hear and taste what his characters experience.

I'm familiar with this era, having lived through it myself (albeit a lot younger than most of the characters), and Boyle captures the moment with total veracity. He writes the best acid-trip experience I've ever read. And to cap it all, it's a first rate page-turner of a story as well. My only gripe is that it ends too soon. I would've liked to see the tale turn full circle, back to summer where it started.

The first reviewer is right to note the parallels with Jack London though, and there is a similar journey for the characters as there is for Buck in Call of the Wild, from the indolence of California to the vast wilderness of Alaska. And in the writing, a fresh wild streak runs through the novel like one of London's wolves.

I was given this novel and Will Self's 'Umbrella' at the same time recently. Turning from the turgid world of Self's sub-Joycean fantasy to Boyle's hyper-real road trip was like having brilliant Californian sunlight slice through grey London clouds. The most enjoyable novel I have read this century.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 168 reviews
85 of 93 people found the following review helpful
Good Read, But Boyle Can Do Better 2 Dec. 2004
By G. Bestick - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Several years ago, I saw Welsa Whitfield perform show tunes and torch songs at a cabaret. She sang arch renditions of sentimental ballads, drawing out the emotion in the songs and mocking it at the same time. Her act didn't really cohere because you can't have it both ways. You can't be ironic and sincerely poignant at the same time.

This same issue - the messy conjoining of irony and sincerity - affects much of T.C. Boyle's fiction. Boyle is probably the most talented of the Boomer-generation fiction writers. He can do novels of epic sweep as well as pointillistic short stories. He's a fiendishly imaginative plotter, a supple stylist, and can assemble big casts of eye-catching characters. And he's laugh- out-loud funny. Boyle is also the most frustrating writer of his generation because he uses all this talent for the ironic take, the quick score, the easy laugh. Capable of being our Dickens or Balzac, the writer who defines his time, he mostly settles for being a deft satirist.

Which brings us to Drop City. The plot is straightforward enough. A group of hippies wear out their welcome in Sonoma County, California. Their leader, the quasi-charismatic Norm, owns some land in Alaska his uncle left to him. The hippie cavalcade moves north, where their goofy communal hedonism smacks up against the harsh realties of life in the Alaskan bush. The counterpoint to the hippies is a young trapper, Sess Harder, and his new wife Pamela. Sess and Pamela befriend the hippies, and the lives of the hippies and the locals mingle with some comic and some tragic results.

There are easy targets here, and Boyle hits them without overly straining himself. He skewers the Love Generation's meretricious idealism, greedy intake of flesh and illegal substances, the chaos of communal egalitarianism. The epiphanies are pretty straightforward too. Star, one of the hippie chicks whose consciousness Boyle drops us into, figures out that sexual liberation is a better deal for the guys than the girls. Her boyfriend, Marco, realizes that pleasure-seeking self-indulgence isn't such a great survival strategy when the larder is low and winter's coming on.

This would have been news around 1971. But Drop City was delivered to us in 2003. If it's history we're dealing with, Boyle might have given us a deeper look at the motives of his patchouli-scented tribe. Beneath the sex, drugs, and rock and roll of that era, there did exist a meaningful critique of the spiritual emptiness of suburban American life. That critique generated a mass movement that put the best and brightest of an entire generation out on the road, searching for something better. Enormous effort went in to developing alternative structures and processes; it wasn't all comic or misguided. Had Boyle given his hippies more depth of motivation, their commune's demise would have been more resonant, or at least more poignant.

But Boyle doesn't do poignant. What we get in Drop City are some funny riffs on hippie pretentiousness, some strong descriptive writing about the Alaskan bush, and a story that's clever enough to keep you turning the pages. Read it, enjoy it, and you'll probably stop thinking about the characters ten minutes after you put it down.

All of Boyle's novels offer at minimum a fun ride. He moves nimbly around the American landscape and has a fine eye for the ridiculous. Budding Prospects deals with a later era of Northern California pot smokers. The Tortilla Curtain, a look at illegal immigrants in Southern California, is almost great, but he just had to drop in his patented hipster irony. A Friend of the Earth is an imaginative ecological dystopia. The Road to Wellville is about nineteenth century utopians who preached truth and salvation through cereal grains instead of lysergic acid diethylamide. World's End won a Pen/Faulkner award.

Boyle is also a deft short story writer. You can catch most of them in TC Boyle Stories. Pay special attention to the story "If the River Was Whiskey." It demonstrates the kind of power Boyle can achieve when he lets a little emotional sincerity seep into a narrative. That particular story is a standard he should hold himself to, instead of squandering precious writerly juices on five finger exercises like Drop City. Here's hoping that Boyle, as he rounds into the final turn of his productive career, will use his immense talent to rise to the greatness of which he's capable.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Ants & grasshoppers in the Age of Aquarius 30 Dec. 2004
By John L Murphy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I've admired Boyle since his debut novel, Water Music, but I admit being let down by most of his later work--the themes are great, but their execution left a bit to be desired. His talent is enormous, his ambition's contagious, his ideas are fertile as ever. But does he have the discipline to make it into the highest ranks, whose eminence I believe he can reach if he toughens up his attitude? He's the boy who likes to act the rebel, the drop-out he once was, but all along he has the makings of the PhD he became. This contrariness still simmers.

As others have noted about Drop City, Boyle's talent shines, but he's capable of much more. I do find that his ironic style has in recent work subsided a bit, giving way to measured compassion in his stories, such as many of those in After the Plague. One of the stories in that collection dealt with a serial test of potential mates in Alaska, which may be the origin of what here is the Sess and Pamela plot.

[...]. His love of boastful fakes and the ensuing macho punchouts continues here as in his other fiction, but it does get tedious even if he's good at it. I have taught his story "Greasy Lake" to college students, and much as I enjoy his bravura narrative in small doses, it can become "testiduneous"(to use a word from GL I found again in DC) over the long haul.

The two brawling contingents, hippie "grasshoppers" and sourdough "ants," do not even meet until the 280's in pagination. Lots of exposition precedes, often the most interesting feature of Boyle's writing being the details: how a commune tries to feed the folks, how you trap wolves, what a dark winter feels like in Alaska, how hippies need foodstamps and welfare to "live off the land." If you let your eye fall upon individual paragraphs, you'll find nearly invariably well-crafted, energetic, restless prose, which itches to leap off the page free of cliche, full of fresh metaphors and clever observations. Problem is, the book's structure flits from character to character in its indirect narration, and the omniscient voice of the controlling speaker filters only sporadically through a cast of sometimes insufficiently differentiated people whom you find not enough empathy for.

Sess and Pamela and Marco earn the author and thus the reader's sympathy, but Boyle's much better at male than female "consciousness." So, after a few hundred pages of calculatedly witty insights, the reader may well weary of being so much inside other people's heads without a whole lot of dialogue or relief from the omnipresent buzz of inner monologue. It's a pattern common to much of Boyle's ouevre, where his strength of commentary and his weakness of sneering coalesce.

I'm as pessimistic as the next faux-misanthrope, but while Boyle has progressed in his ability to care for his fictional humans despite our real clumsiness and hormones and ideals and hypocrisies, this novel fails ultimately to live up to its promise. I'm glad I read it, having learned a lot about the "how-to" issue of the time and places, and I wish Boyle well as he continues to improve. If he was a rookie, this'd be a remarkable season. Two decades on, this veteran still has to fulfill his potential with a bases-loaded home run. He can do it, but he has not yet. Here, form meets content, as the communal dream fades and the issue of survival, headhunters vs. basket-weavers as one character muses, comes to another inevitable Boyle smash-up.

By the way, the author's a true gentleman; I met him at a booksigning when Water Music came out--he and I the only ones there!--and his biker mien belies a much gentler soul. See "Greasy Lake" for this/my/his authorial fallacy:)
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
By D. F. Norris - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I was not familiar with T.C. Boyle, and therefore had never ready anything he had written. I chose this book because I was a young woman during the 70's, and was very much a part of the hippie movement in California. I hoped this book would be a bit of a walk down memory lane. How delighted I was to find it was so much more. In the first part of the book, the members of the "California" Drop City so accurately represented people I knew. Idealism overrode reality, fueled by a drug-induced sense of invincibility. But the real impact of this book hits when the Drop City members move to Alaska, with their naive belief that living in the untamed Alaskan wilds would be the ultimate adventure. But they found that the "free love" and "living off the fat of the land" philosophy did not work in the harsh Alaskan winter. Contrasted with this loopy group of people are Seth and Pamela, Alaskan natives, who represent the salt of the earth folks, who's contact with the Drop City inhabitants clearly demonstrates the clash of cultures between good intentioned idealism and harsh reality. All the characters in this book are finely etched. The transition from carefree love children to frightened, unprepared hostages of the Alaskan wilds, is at once predictable and heartbreaking. Several of the Drop City members defect: the original founder takes his allegedly sick girlfriend and bails; Pan becomes a victim of his own materialism and suffers the ultimate consequence. The juxtaposition of the Drop City inhabitants and the lives of native Alaskans Seth and Pamela, is what makes this book so incredibly moving. I found Mr. Boyle's understanding of the 70's insightful and realistic. The plot and characters are not the only strength of this book. Mr. Boyle's writing is both crisp and poetic, interlaced with a biting and acerbic sense of humor. Yes, I definitely recommend this book to anyone, but most specifically those of us who either were, or knew those who were, members of the 70's, and understood how quickly the sense of love and peace could be transformed by reality. The move to Alaska in this book is, is my mind, an allegory of how the harsh realities of life ultimately transformed the idealism of the 70's. The book is well worth reading, no matter where or who you were during that pivotal time.
35 of 42 people found the following review helpful
It Could Have Been Wonderful--But It's Not 3 Jun. 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
T.C. Boyle is one of the most technically gifted writers in America, as the present volume bears witness to. His descriptions, characterizations, and flights of lyricism are almost without peer.
But Drop City is a quickly tedious and predictable book that's been written many times--by Denis Johnson (*Already Dead*), for instance. Boyle seems self-consciously smug in his own brazen mediocrity at times, going for adolescent gross-outs and tired narrative scenerios.
Drop City is, most of all, a book about the waste and decay and lassitude of a certain segment of the author's generation. If that "does it" for you, read my 2 stars as 5. But the arrested emotional development of the novel's characters, so clearly described, seems to be the end in itself here--more than any other American author I've read, Boyle seems to take a perverse glee in demonstrating his virtuosity and then not going any further. I used to think he just wasn't writing up to his potential. But maybe he is.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Occasionally entertaining slice of commune life... 26 May 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Boyle has the most fun here when he forces his California-conditioned hippies to endure the endless winter of the Alaskan wilderness. It's an interesting premise, and occasionally it hits the mark, but it still leaves the reader feeling "so what?", because ultimately these are just a bunch of unlikeable layabouts. His descriptions are uniformly excellent, and one can't help but wonder whether he rather wasted them on the characters here, but Drop City is quite readable in a voyeuristic, zoo-type way.
Better than a lot of counterculture portraits because it has its tongue firmly in its cheek, but unless you really care about selfish pothead pseudo-spiritualists and their helpless struggles you're not going to find the Great American Novel here.
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