Friday, December 19, 2003

After yesterday's blogging fiasco, I am back to resurrect my thoughts about Drop City by T.C. Boyle. This was my first Boyle novel, and based on this book alone, I wish to declare that nobody writing today uses metaphor as inventively as he. He wields an enormous vocabulary; I only wish I'd kept a dictionary by my side as I was reading. Problem was, I was too engrossed in the story and the rich imagery to budge from my chair.

When a commune of California hippies (named Drop City, of course) are forced to abandon their land, the group travels to Alaska, to a deeply forested region 150 miles from Fairbanks. As they embark on the task of returning to nature, they confront a number of Alaskan homesteaders and survivalists who are wedded to the earth and have struggled to adapt to the harsh realities of life in the Great North. Their contrasting lives and conflicts make for a story of epic proportions.

Boyle's treatment of the late 60s is unique; no fiction or nonfiction book I have read and no film I have seen has come close to the way that Drop City genuinely evokes the spirit, the mood, the gestalt of the era. Writers fall back on the stock 60s stereotyped characters, or they get all self-consciously analytical about a time that had so much chaos and so many cross-currents going that their generalizations bust at the seams. When trying to be comedic, they fall flat on their faces and write farce and caricature that is anything but funny. Boyle pokes fun at the counter-culture of the late 60s, and it is uproariously funny, because he never loses the novelist's most vital quality, casting a sympathetic eye on the era, or his characters, good and evil.


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