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TPG reviews: Hippie Drum, by Jnana Hodson

July 12, 2013

*Book reviewed at the request of the author.  The book is available for free here; I was not compensated in any way for this review.

Hippie drum is blessed by a wonderful premise and setting but not, sadly, a good plot

They live together, more or less, on a hardscrabble farm. Some are college students; some, dropouts. One’s an Army veteran and a few work full-time careers. They’re drawn together by dreams of Peace and Love as much as cheap rent, even before dogs, cats, and chickens enter the picture. Of course you know them as hippies by their long hair and outrageous attire. But when their summer of mountain lakes and partying fades into winter, critical differences threaten their circle.

Through it all, as the newest resident discovers in his quest for romantic recovery and companionship, one introduction leads to another, on the farm and in town, all eventually blossoming in delightful or bittersweet disclosures and wisdom the following summer. It’s a private Woodstock to remember. Come, join the circle as Hippie Drum relives its magical dance and rhythm. 

My rating: 2/5

I’ll be honest: I was really surprised and thrilled to receive an honest-to-God request for a review.  It’s never happened before and it’ll probably be ages before it happens again, assuming it ever does.  Even though it wasn’t the sort of thing I usually read, I liked the sound of the blurb and was feeling excited when I turned the first page.

Like any review, however, I have to be completely truthful about what I thought.  In this case, that truth is that my excitement had largely evaporated by the time I was finished.

Hippie Drum is the story of DL (we’re never told his full name), a young male photographer who moves into a hippie commune at an old ranch after getting a job at a newspaper.  DL suffered a bad breakup with a girl, Diz, prior to getting this job and is still nowhere near over it at the time the story starts.  Over the next two summers, DL meets numerous people and has several relationships; at the same time, he begins to explore various aspects of spirituality.  Meanwhile, the initially-idyllic hippie commune soon runs into problems as a result of both overcrowding and internal differences.

The main problem here was that the blurb started me off with a completely wrong impression.  I was expecting the workings of the commune to form the main chunk of the plot, with DL’s personal development as only part of the story. In reality, the commune is only a small subplot at best, with DL’s own internal development forming the main thrust of the narrative.

When the book does focus on the commune, it’s great.  I liked reading about the commune: there was a real sense of disorganization and community spirit about the place.  The various pitfalls and attempts at solutions were fascinating to read about and could easily have made a wonderful novel on their own if expanded upon properly.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the novel is purely about DL, and DL’s personal arc just never particularly interested me.  After moving into the farm, DL attempts several relationships which don’t go anywhere, takes up spiritual practices and…well, that’s about it, actually.  Rarely was any significant conflict involved, and the overall plot felt pretty thin.

I should also mention that the ending annoyed me in a big way: it renders almost all of the book’s events moot and left the distinct impression of wasted time.  Granted, this might well have been the point, but that didn’t make it any less infuriating when I reached it.

All in all, this is a book which could possibly be good for people who are already interested in 60s America and the hippy subculture in particular.  Seeing as it’s free, there isn’t really a reason not to take a punt if you’re currently looking to read something.  That said, I do not personally feel that I got much out of it.

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