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The MOST Newsletter Spring 2003 Volume IX

A Project of The Peregrine Foundation

P.O. Box 460141 / San Francisco, CA 94146-0141 / telephone: (415) 821-2090
/ fax (415) 282-2369
Staff: Ramon Sender, editor; Vivian Gotters, Pam Read Hanna, Sandi Stein,
Contributing Editors; Tomas Diaz & David Hatch, HTML wizards.
The MOST Newsletter is an open forum for fact and opinion, and encourages
the expression of all views.
The opinions expressed in the letters published are those of the
correspondents and do not necessarily reflects those of MOST editors or
staff.

Spring 2003 Volume IX

-------------- "What Go 'Round Come Around" -------
 

Subject:[mostposts] hunh?

Ramon Sender 2/16/2003:
My favorite writer, T. C. Boyle, seems to have read "Home Free Home" on line and used it as the basis for his new novel, "Drop City," See reviews below.
Chronicle Reviewer compares commune's leader Norm Sender (Sender!) to Lou Gottlieb, and Boyle uses the phrase 'Voluntary Primitivism' which is the dead giveaway, I think.

I'm ordering a copy, and then ponder writing a review - well, I may post a pre-reading review to point folks to the free online copy.

Here's the Chronicle review:
 'The last truly free place'
 A California commune heads to Alaska seeking the ultimate utopia

 Reviewed by Andrew Roe
 Sunday, February 16, 2003
 Drop City
 By T.C. Boyle
 VIKING; 464 PAGES; $25.95

The utopian search for "a world elsewhere" (to quote Shakespeare's "Coriolanus") casts a long if fading shadow over the history of the United States, reaching as far back as the country's origins.
With European settlement came a number of communal-living experiments. Among the earliest was Maryland's Bohemia Manor, a colony founded by the followers of the French mystic Jean de Labadie in 1683. The communitarian tradition continued with the 18th century sectarian establishments of the Shakers and Moravians, as well as the appearance of utopian socialist Fourierist communities, called phalanxes, in the 1840s. (One such Fourierist enclave, Brook Farm, served as the inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Blithedale Romance.")
Yet when we think of communal living, we invariably think of the communes of the 1960s. By the early 1970s, thousands were in existence, part of a brimming counterculture that rejected the larger society in favor of collective values and a back-to-the-land ethic.
"Grooving, right? Wasn't that what this was all about?" as Star, one of the denizens of Drop City, T.C. Boyle's fictional commune, muses not long after her arrival. "The California sun on your face, no games, no plastic society -- just freedom and like minds, brothers and sisters all?" Considering the time (1970), the premise (a Northern California hippie commune heads to Alaska) and the author, one might easily assume that "Drop City," Boyle's ninth novel, falls into the category of full-blown satire.
Indeed, Boyle, whose prolific fiction output has begun to rival that of such workhorses as John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates, ranks as one of our master satirists, in both his novels and his short stories.
But for the most part Boyle plays it straight here. Sure, he skewers some of the pretensions and sexism of the peace-and-love generation, and there are funny bits scattered throughout, but this is a serious, mostly somber book, as if Boyle were attempting to shed his M.O. as a comic writer; his publisher, in fact, goes so far as to label "Drop City" as "noncomic." It's a wise decision; after all, do we really need another lightweight look back at the purple-hazed days of yore? (The hair! The clothes! The music! The drugs!)
Located above the Russian River, Drop City operates according to what its founder/guru, Norm Sender, calls "Voluntary Primitivism." The residents, with names like Star, Pan, Sky Dog and Mendocino Bill, engage in the chemically enhanced and free-love-inspired recreational activities you'd expect -- plus there's plenty of Jimi, Janis and Jerry to go around, too.
However, Boyle also documents the drudgery and difficulty of commune life (including some nasty sanitation woes) and manages to avoid creating one- dimensional Tommy Chong-like hippie caricatures.
Meanwhile, in the remote area of Boynton, Alaska, Boyle introduces us to Sess Harder. In contrast to Drop City's members, who make trips to the market and collect food stamps, Sess is the real deal, carving out a place for himself in the harsh Alaskan wilderness and living in Thoreauvian simplicity. Still, a guy needs companionship. Enter Pamela, who happens to be searching for a self-reliant husband/outdoorsman, and Boyle nicely captures the sweetness and awkwardness of Sess and Pamela's budding union.
 The opening sections cut back and forth between the two locales until halfway through the novel, when Norm, much like Lou Gottlieb, founder of the Morning Star Ranch commune in Sonoma County, finds himself in trouble with the local authorities. Alaska beckons, not only because it's "the real thing, the last truly free place on this whole continent," as Star, who's hooked up with a stoic draft- dodging "brother" named Marco, enthuses, but also because Drop City can set up shop on a parcel of land belonging to Norm's uncle. The unreality of Alaska -- "that alien, icebound afterthought of a place" -- quickly leads to an exuberant, and naive, embrace of it. Boyle's prose lights up every page. "Drop City" is full of breathtaking descriptions and appropriately Hemingwayesque cadences and rhythms. Using alternating points of view (Star, Marco, Pan, Sess, Pamela), Boyle vividly conveys life in a commune and in the Alaskan wild, as well as the clashing of the two cultures, California hippies and Boynton's memorable outcasts, with equal authority and authenticity.
And yet, after a slow, mellow-yellow-paced 450-plus pages, you get the sense that all this impressive buildup amounts to just that: buildup. "Drop City" ends tepidly, with a disappointing fizzle. The coming of subzero winter predictably causes defections and thinning numbers for the transplanted commune, while a long-running feud between Sess and a sleazy trapper, Joe Bosky, intensifies, escalating from the comic to the violent.
The result is an anticlimactic finale for an otherwise fine novel, one that addresses timeless themes in American literature (the individual versus society, survival in the wilderness) and provides a balanced portrait of a specific time and era that all too often receives simplified, nostalgia-heavy representations.

Here are some some other reviews from Amazon:

  From Publishers Weekly
    Boyle has a wonderful eye for the comedy of imposture when the
self-deceived themselves practice deception. His ninth novel, which
centers on the  travails of a hippie commune, Drop City, in the early
'70s, gives him plenty of poseurs to work with. Drop City, in Sonoma
County, Calif., is run, in a  manner of speaking, by a gold-toothed
purveyor of Aquarian notions, Norm Sender. The Drop City family includes
Pan (aka Ronnie) and his high  school pal Star (aka Paulette Regina
Starr), who have fled from the East Coast together; two rather predatory
black dudes; and a variegated crew of longhaired "cats" and flower-child
"chicks." Star, sweet but often naive, is the opposite of Pan, beneath
whose free love patter lurks an unnerving rapacity. Star soon hooks up
with Marco, whose solid virtues are concealed beneath his veil of hair.
When "The Man," in the person of the Sonoma County sheriff's department,
condemns the property, Norm, who has inherited other property far away
in Boynton, Alaska, proposes a tribal migration   north. Meanwhile, the
news in Boynton is that local trapper Cecil "Sess" Harder is marrying
Pamela McCoon, after an eccentric courtship ritual. Sess's
 major problem lately has been a violent feud with Joe Bosky, the local
bush pilot. When the Drop City hippie bus rolls into Boynton, a comic
clash of  civilizations ensues. Building utopia upriver from the
Harders, Drop City's denizens discover that polar climes demand rather
drastic behavioral adaptations. Boyle understands the multitudinous,
sneaky ways innocence insulates itself from ambiguity-but in this novel
he leavens that cynical insight with genuine sweetness. While the
Day-Glo of the hippie era has long since faded, this novel brings it all
back home-and helps us see how much  in the American grain it all really
was.
 Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

  From Booklist
  The hippie manifesto, "Turn on, tune in, drop out," inspired Norm to
open his Sonoma County ranch up to anyone who found their stoned way
there, thus creating Drop City, the hedonistic commune Boyle so
dynamically conjures in his compulsively readable ninth novel. The
roiling community of   acid-dropping, rock-and-rolling, sexually
promiscuous seekers includes a few good men and lots of louts, and
fun-loving, tough women, including Star,  who escaped a small,
smothering New York town with her erstwhile boyfriend, Ronnie, in
pursuit of enlightenment. Their breakup is one of many conflicts that
erupt in the wishful land of free love, where there is, in fact, no love
at all for rowdy Drop City among its disgusted, litigious neighbors. So
resourceful Norm takes the entire party on the road and heads to Alaska.
Meanwhile, deep in the pristine Alaskan wilderness, stout-hearted Sess
Harder,   a master in the art of living well off the land, has won
himself a wife, the impressive Pamela. Just as the newlyweds start
setting up their private paradise,
  the hippie circus arrives, and both little Boynton, Alaska, and its
new denizens are forever changed. An accomplished, versatile storyteller
and discerning  social observer, Boyle writes with enthralling momentum
and seductive detail, avidly describing everything from California
sunshine to the northern  lights, psychedelicly altered states to the
cramped interior of an Alaskan cabin. But for all its glorious
physicality and riveting action, this is a frank and  penetrating
critique of a naive but courageous time, a stinging indictment of
machismo and a paean to womanhood, and an unabashed celebration of true
love and liberty. Donna Seaman
 Copyright © American Library Association
_______________

Subject:[mostposts] Letter to Viking Publishers

Ramon Sender 2/18/2003: I don't know if this will get us free copies of Boyle's "Drop CIty," but I thought it was worth a try:

Viking Books Review/Promotional copies request --
fax: 212/366-2952
Att: Clare Ferraro, President

Dear Ms.  Ferraro:
It came as quite a bit of a surprise to read a review of T. C. Boyle's 'Drop City" and notice that his
'fictitious' commune has all the earmarks, according to the reviewer, of Morningstar Ranch, and the leader, Norm Sender, resembling Lou Gottlieb, Morningstar's owner. Curious also, that he uses my last name for this character and I was co-founder with Lou of Morningstar and remain the de facto archivist.

Now Professor Boyle has always been one of my top five favorite living fiction writers, and until I am able to read this book, I'm not sure what to make this odd 'gloss' on our very own communal family, which by the way remains alive and well lo these many years later. In e-mail correspondence, Prof. Boyle assures me that I will approve of his fictionalized treatment of our communal family ñ but  gee whiz, I’m sure that I’ll much prefer that he chose another name for his communal leader!

The REAL commune history, "Home Free Home,” in the free tradition of the S. F. Diggers, is available
for free on line at: http://www.diggers.org/home_free.htm

I do think Boyle as a courtesy at least could have acknowledged his sources, -- perhaps in the next
printing? (Shades of Thomas Mann and Arnold Schoenberg!)

I’d like to request a dozen complimentary copies for the Morningstar folks. If you ship them to my office
UPS, I'd be glad to pay the postage to spread them around. If folks like the book, I think word would go
around on the grapevine and you’d increase your sales.

Perhaps Viking should read "Home Free Home" and see if they would like to publish it.
It's been online for at least ten years at the website shown above. and the 300-plus black and white photos from the second ranch (opened after Morningstar was bulldozed by the County):

http://imaginationwebsites.com/wheelersranch.html

as well as  various other writings by tribal members at:
MOST Newsletters Table of Contents



 Respectfully,

Ramon Sender, Administrative Director
Noe Valley Ministry
1021 Sanchez Street
San Francisco, CA 94114

Office: 415 282 2317
Fax: 415 282-0669 or the one listed above

_______________
 

Subject:[mostposts] Viking Press

Ramon Sender 2/21/2003: I talked to Boyle's editor today, and he's sending me a dozen copies. He sounds very nice. I asked him, "Why don't you publish "Home Free Home?" and sent him to the website.
So let me know who wants firsties... Peggy's already spoken up.
Some of you may have to forward to the next on the list.

_______________

Ramon Sender 2/21/2003:  Here's the waiting list for the "Drop City" book when
it arrives.. And of course any help on postage much appreciated. You'll get a Donkey Gruntler too if you add an extra $1. Ther are about 250 Gruntlers and Poohbear essays in circulation! Kids love 'em! Smart grown-ups too!

Peggy
Pam
Rena
Char
John/Jeanie
Buffalo Bill

I've also been thinking about what we hippies called "Stoned" of "getting high." I think the definition for
me involves the letting down of a barrier that keeps me from 'feeling light" with the heart chakra. Or perhaps it opens a channel from the optical nerve center in the brain and the heart. Anyone else have any ideas?
I'm also interested in a definition of a 'contact high.' So far I have not found a physiological explanation.
I have a theory based on something I once read about how our ears transmit a sound. I think people hear
our transmissons - of course one's 'vibes' could also be independent of the ear transmitter - and lock into
them accordingly.
The 'Shakti' transmission of a guru -- the emanation one feels in the presence of an enlightened being,
is also a 'contact high,' of course. Anyone have more?
For those interested in yoga exercises, here's one that points to the 'uvula nursing' exercise I've been
promoting (I just LOVE it when I find an ancient practice that supports my personal discoveries!):

An especially important and commonly ignored chakra is the lalana, located just above the ajna and below the sahasrara and is associated with the lunar nectar issuing through tonguing the uvula above the palate (khechari). Also the talu chakra which is located just above the neck at the back brain near the occiput.
Both of these are associated with AUM.
http://www.rainbowbody.net/HeartMind/Introyogas.htm
And of course most exciting for me back last summer was discovering this quote from the Vigyan Bhairava Tantra:
SUCK SOMETHING AND BECOME THE SUCKING.
in "Zen Flesh Zen Bones"
52.
A.Lie down as dead. Enraged in wrath, stay so.
B. Or stare without moving an eyelash.
C. Or suck something and become the sucking.

_________________
Morningstar reviews of T.C. Boyle's novel, Drop City

Subject: [mostposts] Chronicle letter

Ramon Sender 3/16/2003:The Sunday Chronicle Book Review published the following letter today (Sunday). They edited out my pointer to "Home Free Home" online as well as a few other comments, but they got the gist:

COMMUNAL LIVING GETS A BAD RAP

Regarding T. C. Boyle’s recently published “Drop City”
(reviewed in the Chronicle’s Sunday 2/23Book Review  section)
I am writing on behalf of the alumn of the Morningstar Ranch commune in Sonoma County. Although not all 50-plus members of the MOST (Morning Star) Internet list have read the book yet, I think I can speak for the majority who have discussed the reviews and various facets of the novel onlinr. And frankly, we're all very unhappy.

Boyle's 'Drop City" has all the earmarks, as Roe noted, of Morningstar Ranch, and he mentioned that the leader, Norm Sender, resembled Limeliter Lou Gottlieb, Morningstar's owner. Actually, other than Boyle’s use of Lou’s coined acronym LATWIDNO (Land Access To Which Is Denied No One) Norm bore absolutely no resemblance to the charismatic and always entertaining Gottlieb. It is also odd, by the way, that he used my last name for this Norm character and I was co-founder with Lou of Morningstar and remain the de facto archivist.

T. C. Boyle has always been one of my favorite living storytellers, and the quality of the writing in ‘Drop City’ is certainly up to his usual level of virtuosity. That said, I totally disapprove of Boyle’s commune portrayal. Morning Star, even at its worst (after having been bulldozed by Sonoma County officialdom three times and all the gentler folk and families run off by daily arrests) never was as feces- bestrewn and dope-addled as he describes. Boyle took the most tragic occurances at various communes (a horse
wanders on the road and dies, a child drowns in a swimming pool) and created a Zap Comix version of
alternate living that everybody will just LOVE to hate.

Morningstar Ranch served as a free treatment center for LSD-overdosed people that the Digger bus delivered without charge from the Haight-Ashbury, as well as society’s serious alcohol abuse cases. To me it's truly remarkable that the level of violence was as low as it was..We had dudes come up edgy and aggressive, and a few days later I'd see them smiling and relaxed. Living close to Nature is the best therapy one can receive, especially surrounded by loving and accepting brothers and sisters.

In contrast, Boyle’s Drop City residents come across as humorless, unrelentingly wasted and sad as a group, with no redeeming qualities that I can recognize.

Someday an author will write a truly inspiring novel about the communal movement, which by the way is still quietly alive and well in various out-of-the-way nooks and crannies of the nation.
Ramon Sender Barayon

________________

Pam Hanna 5/2/2003:

Telling it Like it Wasn't

The best thing about T.C. Boyle's novel, Drop City is the cover picture of eight naked backsides arranged in a morningstar pattern and lying in a flowered field (taken from Aquarian Odyssey by Don Synder). But it's all down hill from there. The author, it seems, has an agenda. He's supposedly showing and telling the nitty gritty of hippie communal life in the '60s and '70s as if it were an historical novel, which it isn't. Instead, his creation is a condemnatory cartoon from hell, the Zap comix version. The author takes snippets of actual lifestyles and happenings of the period and weaves it into a complete fabrication and caricature, not readily apparent to anyone who has not lived through and participated of the communal life of the era. Nowhere is there mention of the new social order attempted or the continuation of that social order in hundreds of communes that survive to the present time.

Boyle takes the name "Drop City" from an actual commune in Colorado by that name, famous for its geodesic Buckminster Fuller domes, but this fictional commune is nothing like the original Drop City. On the copyright page, it is claimed that "names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental." Oh really? Then why does he use the last name "Sender" for his central character Norm Sender, who is a cartoon and nothing like Ramon Sender, one of the original communards, and Lou Gottlieb, the original owner. Why does he appropriate the Morningstar motto, "Land access to which is denied none", why does he locate it in Sonoma County near the Russian River and why does he mention Rena's name, change it to "Reba" and turn her into a caricature too? He's obviously referring to Morningstar, founded on the principles of Sri Aurobindo of Pondicherry, India. But there is never any mention of spiritual values and practices observed at Morningstar. Instead, the people portrayed are uniformly stupid, immature and degenerate with piles of human offal underfoot at every turn.

Boyle pulls in worst-case scenarios from several different communes and makes up the rest. It's true that there were drugs used (but not the endless supply of marijuana, hallucinogens, uppers and downers that Boyle's Drop City folks always have). It's true that love was free (what kind of love isn't free anyway?) but not the mandate to "ball" anyone and everyone as in Boyle's Drop City. Incidentally, the words "cat", "chicks" and "ball" are all East Coast words of the late '50s and early '60s. Boyle shows that he's 10 years behind the times and geographically unhip when he insists on using these words so frequently in referring to a West Coast commune. Sounds like he's imitating Tommy Chong's stoner riffs. He's similarly sloppy throughout. He has communards gathering peyote "buds" in the hills of California where peyote doesn't grow and never did, and he has rattlesnakes appearing where there are no rattlesnakes and never were.

It's ludicrous when he talks about voluntary poverty in one breath and then has the hippies eating eggs, toast and juice for breakfast, tahini casseroles and baloney sandwiches for lunch, home-canned goods and three-course dinners for supper with plenty of cookies and brownies, when the most we ever had were grains and home-grown vegetables. Oatmeal for breakfast was a rare treat. The goat milk was only for the kids (the human kind).

And it's downright silly when he has everybody puffing away on tailor-made cigarettes. The only tailor-mades arrived with the tourists who came out to ogle us (OK, he did get that part right). Cans of Top and Bugler roll-your-owns were another rare treat. And how about all that underwear? Nobody that I know of wore underwear in rural communes of the times.

So then he has this supposedly poor but actually rich hippie commune moving to Alaska, (Drop City North) where he maligns the native Americans there as drunken bums and savages. Thank heavens he didn't talk about Morningstar East in New Mexico where we actually moved. He would probably have misrepresented the Taos Indians to a similar extent. Now, I've never been to Alaska and don't know the country or people, but it's a safe bet from the inaccuracies of his portrayal of Northern California that he also misrepresented the Native Americans of Alaska. There is no mention here of their ancient culture and values. Here, he says that they're all drunks, debauched, savage and filthy.

It's a shame that Boyle couldn't have turned his considerable narrative talents to another genre. I say this because he does know his craft. If he had a science background, he would probably be an excellent science fiction writer. As it is, the characters in this book are shallow and two-dimensional because of his hidden agenda, which is to malign, misrepresent, and condemn the whole communal movement. If you didn't know anything about his subject, you'd think it was a good read, especially with the satisfying poetic justice of the ending.

Instead, this book is a stunt and a disappointment. After all the glowing reviews, I want to add this note of dissent. It could have been better - a LOT better. For openers, it could have been REAL.

_______________

Timothy Miller is a historian of religion in America whose special interests focus on new and alternative religions and the history of communitarianism. He received a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Kansas. Among the books he has authored and edited are Following In His Steps: A Biography of Charles M. Sheldon, The Hippies and American Values, America's Alternative Religions, The Quest for Utopia in Twentieth-Century America, and The 60s Communes.

Timothy Miller 5/24/2003: Review of Drop City by T. C. Boyle–for Communal Societies

Drop City.  By T. Coraghessan Boyle.  New York: Viking.  2003.  444 pp.
ISBN 0-670-03172-0 ($25.95  cloth)

 Academic journals usually do not review novels, but this pop-fiction tale of the odyssey of a 1960s-era commune deserves notice, if only to call attention to its misrepresentation of history.  The book is not about the real Drop City, nor does it have much respect for the era it evokes.

 The novel begins in a stereotypical hippie commune in Sonoma County, California.  The commune operates on an open-land principle: no one is turned away.  It’s a degenerate place, with an attempted rape that no one seems to care about and an abundance of human offal in random piles around the property because no one will do the work to make the septic system work.  On page 71 the scene suddenly shifts to Alaska, where a survivalist is wedding a mail-order bride.  That sets the stage for the last California days of the commune; just ahead of serious legal problems, the founder/leader declares that they will move to the interior of Alaska.  Wildly improbably, most of them get on a bus and head north.  The last half or so of the novel collapses into the morass of Alaskan outback life in the winter with lots of raw wilderness savagery, a kind of Lord of the Flies in the deep freeze.

 Just why the titular commune is called “Drop City” is never explained.  There actually was a Drop City, one of the very earliest 1960s-era communes, but it was in Colorado, well over a thousand miles from Sonoma County.  Boyle does seem to know that, because on p. 36 he mentions the “original Drop City.”  Actually, however, the commune depicted in the novel is clearly Morning Star Ranch, with a few anecdotes from other communes thrown in.  The name of the leader of the fictional commune is Norm Sender; in real life, Ramón Sender was the first resident of Morning Star and a strong presence there throughout the commune’s life (which ran from 1966 until the final bulldozing of the property by Sonoma County officials in 1973).  A coincidence?  Hardly.  Sender is not a common surname.  Moreover, the fictional Sender proclaims, as his underlying philosophy of welcoming all who would live on the commune, “LATWIDNO”–Land Access to Which Is Denied No One.”  That is a direct appropriation of a doctrine promulgated by both the real Sender and Lou Gottlieb, the original owner and general impresario of Morning Star; the term was theirs, and it is their acronym for it that Boyle borrowed (in the original version it lacked Boyle’s final “O”).  Coincidence?  Puh-leeze!  Another prominent member of the commune also has an appropriated name–in the novel she is usually Reba (but on p. 6 she might be Rena), an obvious knockoff of Gottlieb’s real-life mate Rena.

 Although Morning Star is undeniably the setting, occasional anecdotes from other communes pepper the story line.  There is a murky swimming pool that is not maintained or guarded, and a child falls into it one day; that piece of the story comes from Olompali Ranch, a commune in Marin County, California, to which some Morning Star residents migrated at one point.  A pivotal event that leads to the fictional commune’s departure for Alaska involves a horse’s getting loose and being hit by a vehicle; that event is also lifted from Olompali.  Kerista, an open-marriage commune in San Francisco that lasted several years, is mentioned by name, but its position on sexual behavior is seriously distorted to “making it with anybody who asked, no matter their race or creed or color or whether they were fat or old or retarded or smelled like the underside of somebody’s shoe” (p. 9).  The real-life Bay-area Harrad commune is also mentioned by name, and its sexual openness similarly misrepresented.   And so forth.

 Anyone looking for the evocation of all of the stereotypes about the hippie communes can find them here between two covers.  The women have large, unrestrained, floppy breasts.  The communards do little but get stoned–grass is endlessly abundant--and have sex.  No one works, of course.  They smoke whatever is passed around in a pipe and drink out of the common bottle of cheap red wine.  Meals usually consist of vegetarian mush, nuts, and seeds.  In Alaska, everyone gets the crabs.

 Well, none of this matters, right?  After all, it’s a novel, and it’s not required to be factually accurate.  The problem is that the book perpetuates pejorative and inaccurate stereotypes.  A novelist could write something about jive-shuck darkies just singing happy songs while they enjoy being slaves, or about women who really like being subservient to the husbands who periodically beat them senseless, or about adults who make a fine contribution to society by having sex with children.  Any novel along those kinds of lines would richly deserve the abuse that would be heaped upon it.  And this one is in that vein.  That’s what’s wrong with it.  The gentle people who actually lived at Morning Star are disgusted with the book for misrepresenting their community and their aspirations (for weeks the novel was a central topic on their active email list).  One of them bemoaned Boyle’s ability to “skim off all the communal bummers that occurred” and not even mention “the high spiritual vibrations, the devoted Diggers–their social program, and attempt to create a new social order.”  Similarly one of the founders of the real Drop City is outraged that the name of his community was subjected to a “bizarre and irresponsible ripoff.”

 As the communal veterans rightly observe, what’s missing in the novel is the vision that drew huge numbers of young people to communes in the 1960s.  The book entirely misses the exhilaration, the sublime joy, the unrestrained sense of adventure that was the real fuel for the communes.  Young people would never have flocked to communes by the hundreds of thousands just to wallow in filth and poverty.  Although conditions at some communes were undoubtedly on the primitive side, and many of the negative stereotypes in the novel do have factual antecedents, the energy that drove that time and those places was, as it always is for intentional communities, the highest idealism.  And that overarching sense of making history just isn’t here.  We have all of the communes’ problems and none of the achievements.  If the negative stereotypes were the whole story, the communes would not have been wildly popular, and many hundreds of them would not be surviving today.

 Boyle’s novel has been positively reviewed, by and large.  Critics find it a good read.  But no review I have seen seems to have been written by anyone with much actual knowledge of the 60s communes.  I found the book quite uncompelling and would have quit it after a couple of dozen pages had I not had a review to write.  The understanding of our communal past is not advanced, to say the least, by the appearance of this novel.
 Incidentally, in the acknowledgments Boyle thanks one “Russell Timothy Miller,” which looks all the more like me because the name undergoes a line break after “Russell.”  R.T.M. is someone else, definitely not me.  I have never had any contact with Boyle.

_______________



 
 
 

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