Prior to this novel my experience with T.C. Boyle has been limited to collections of his short stories. The author states that those of his readers who admired, "The Tortilla Curtain", or "A Friend Of The Earth", will find that, "Drop City", is the book they have been waiting for. The book begins in 1970 on a California commune, and were the book another attempt to romanticize and embellish the lifestyle documented in this book, I would likely have stalled after a handful of pages. There is no doubt the decade that ended with 1970 was a momentous one The United States and in many other nations, but the reasons that are worthy of note are often overlooked when glimpsed through the distorted view of Timothy Leary and the legions who attempted to expand their minds chemically, reject conventional society, while all the while leeching their existence from the local welfare office.
Boyle claims that, "we are in the dusk of human life on this planet", whether his tongue is firmly planted in his cheek I don't claim to know. What I can say is that he only states that thirty some years ago we "seemed" to be at the dawn of the same planet. Of course it appeared as dawn to some, and to many of the players in this book, for running away from anything you don't like, or in many cases, truth be told, fear, is a false dawn at best, and pure self delusion in truth. It is simply a fraud, and that is the life that Boyle brings to readers through this book. There is no nostalgia in this book, no, "hyperbole or high jinks common to novels of the sixties", to use the author's words. So, if your memory of the sixties is full of longing to return to them this book is not for you, don't touch it, it will scald your hands and your precious memories, as altered as they may have been when created and continue to be.
"It's all about the chicks", states one commune member, and with those five words condemns the free-love nonsense associated with the decade. Love is free to males, males who are free to pimp out "their" women whether they wish to participate or not. Women are a form of exchange or currency in this book, and those who don't go along are condemned with a facility that today still nauseates. Getting back to nature is no more than the pollution and use of the environment on a scale that is a prelude to the larger scale that takes place today. The communes were a virus; they took, consumed, used up, and moved on. They respected a utopia that never was and slowly became the cynics they claimed they had left behind in their childhood homes. Their imagined contribution was transitory and destructive. A brief period of social dysfunction dressed up and hidden from themselves and those who looked on from a distance. Reality was to be avoided at all costs; a state of constant narcotic induced fantasy was required to live in their phony communes.
Everything and everyone that intruded was brushed aside, kids bothering you, no problem, give them their juice laced with LSD, it would get them off your back so you could indulge yourself, be responsible to no one and for nothing. Trust was a convenience; non-traditional relationships were a momentary diversion, while theft, violence, racism, destruction of the group and the environment they claimed was so precious was the norm, not the exception.
Today's neo hippies and retro freaks equate the music and images with a life that never was. The heroes they listen to have often long since killed themselves while expanding their minds, and even the last stars of that dysfunctional time like Timothy Leary did linger, but not as anything more than dysfunctional burned out oddities, walking, mumbling casualties of the lifestyles they preached. Leary's final great quest was to display himself, to be a drug indulged death beamed live on the internet.
All that ails the world today is the same that was destroying it during the Age of Aquarius, Woodstock, and running away to Canada. The difference is we have become more efficient at the destruction. And while Boyle may rant at deforestation I would like him to explain why we deforested our own country, and now are astonished that others are doing the same. It may be true that we wish others to learn from the stupidities we committed, but there were those that sounded the same alarms as we committed Genocide against Native Americans, and created dust bowls where farms could not function. So now the dust bowls are created in another locale, and why should anyone listen to us? Our concern is not for them, but for the damage we may suffer thousands of miles away.
Boyle absolutely dismembers the entire fraud that communes, free love and the drug popping culture of the sixties truly was. There was no shortage of hypocrisy in the sixties, and I had a great deal of fun reading Boyle as he brought all the dropouts securely in to the fold with all those they claimed to have separated themselves from.
The ending of the book is priceless.