This was a random, experimental book choice – it was on the 1001 Books list and I hadn’t read any T.C. Boyle before so I mooched it as a trial balloon. It was certainly a satisfying read and I’m going to search out more of his novels after this.
This book centres around two drastically different communities in the late 60s/early 70s hippy era: a commune in California and a bush community in Alaska living off trap lines and hunting trips. Boyle carefully sets up both of these communities as opposing ends of the same phenomenon – both, in their individual ways, are trying to drop out of a mainstream American society that they feel no fraternity with. However, that’s where the similarity ends as these two are mirror images of each other. The commune may attract tourists and converts but its commitment to living off the land is laughable in comparison to the Alaskans, whose continued existence depends on it. It soon becomes clear that these communities are heading for a spectacular collision.
There is an underlying irony; that the eponymous Drop City community, formed as a means of dropping out of society and living in harmony with the land, finds it impossible to do so despite the visible evidence that it is possible, provided by the Alaskans they live alongside. The longer Drop City remains in the Alaskan bush, the more this becomes a study of the decay and breakdown of a society under pressure created by the reality of living wild in Alaska. It is a symbolic representation of the disintegration of the dream the commune member have, the artificial, romanticised version of Alaskan life they have constructed in their minds. I have seen this book described in other reviews as a comment on the American Dream. If that is the case, then Boyle seems to have penned a fairly damning indictment of those who seek it, implying naivety and unrealistic expectations.
It is a well-characterised and complex novel, certainly not just ‘one of the crowd’ of hippy novels this period continues to spawn. The question remains, is it a great book? For me, it was a very good book, competently executed, enjoyable and easy to read but it never really crossed the line to greatness. Possibly it suffered from the fact that I didn’t really like any of the characters. There was certainly little that really stuck with me from this but it was enjoyable enough that, as I said earlier, I will read more from T.C. Boyle. An enjoyable read but not necessarily a ‘must-read’.