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.
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.
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.
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.