17 August 2016

A Note on Drop City

     T. C. Boyle has given what appears to be a realistic view of a hippie commune of the 60's and 70's.  Having never lived in one but growing up in the 60's, it has a ring of truth.  The other half of the book is about a character and new wife who live off the land in Alaska.  They become neighbors when the commune's commune is bulldozed by the authorities in California and the financer of the commune's uncle moves from Alaska to Seattle.  The juxtaposition of the book is living in isolation alone or in a pair and the living in a commune where everything is shared.  Two extremes meet; neither one very appealing.

     Living off the land is one of those fond illusions of those who want to play mountain men or pioneers where they do nothing but shoot a buffalo or two and the women do all the actual work.  It works for a few, but an entire country doing it and there are no buffalo to shoot anymore and you may actually have to raise a cow or two to get you through the winter.   There is nothing romantic about raising a garden in Alaska where the mosquitos will carry you away if you stop moving and you have to keep your dogs healthy so they can pull the dog sled through miles of brush checking your traps for protein.

     Then you have the commune where many take no responsibility to keep things together or to do any work, where there is little sanitation and no amenities, where passers-by and gawkers come on weekends to romanticize a life style they know nothing about but think there would be plenty of sex and that would make up for all the other deficiencies. It is clear from the book and our history of utopian settlements that someone has to be in charge. Neither of the alternatives presented by Boyle are very attractive when you get past the idealized version you have in your head about either.

16 August 2016

 A Note on The Beautiful Bureaucrat


     Helen Phillips presents a really bleak existence for Josephine and Joseph moving to the city from a rural life finding jobs, requiring entries into a data base, subletting apartments,  completely unanchored.  The job does acquire meaning when Josephine, the narrator, learns the significance of the entries she makes marking the death of a person when that person becomes her husband.  It is difficult to imagine a more bleak and sinister existence than imagined by Ms. Phillips.  

     I did find the reflection of Josephine interesting when learning she was pregnant.  The thoughts and feelings of a woman first learning she is pregnant is something I had not read previously anywhere.  The trip to the local clinic was well-described and not somewhere one wants to spend a lot of time.

     Other than severe halitosis, her boss is not described other than purposefully not described as a person with no personal characteristics other than bad breath and an insistence that Josephine make her quota of data entries each day in a room with no windows, no pictures, no nothing but a computer for data entry and a stack of files.  Occasionally there is some interaction with other employees in a mostly deserted hallway building with locked doors.  Most of the interaction, what little there is, occurs in the bathroom.

     If a person were to live a life where nothing happens, nothing interesting exists, one's efforts are limited to having enough money to eat and sleep, just about anything is an improvement.   Something needs to happen whether good or bad; it really doesn't matter which.  The entries into the data base made by Josephine presage the death of the person whose name they enter.  When her husband's name appears, it causes her to act.  She initiates action, something is happening.  It doesn't turn out so well, but at least her brain is activated.