Book Review: The Anarchist Thing to Do – From Hippies to Punk Rock

The Anarchist Thing to Do

Within our family, Horton and Kaye’s dramatic past history assumed that same position of archetypal significance that creation myths held for the distant tribal peoples that lived within the world they made. It gave our lives meaning; it provided the explanation for everything that mattered, whether personal or political. The story was endlessly repeated to me and Jude, picked through for illustrative lessons, held up before our rapt eyes like a tapestry, a world heritage treasure behind glass in a museum, in which Horton and Kaye, handing out anarchist flyers in Central Park or making their triumphant getaway from the Halliday Rest Home, stood out like heroes.

The Anarchist Thing to Do (Locations 867-872)

The Plot

From Amazon: In 1975, six-year-old Skye moves with her family from a hippie commune in the Vermont woods to the suburbs of New York. Skye’s parents are anarchists, the family is an anarchist family, and their reasons for the move, like their reasons for everything else, are political. They are returning to mainstream America to spread the word there about their homemade version of anarchism. As a child growing up within the small, happy world of her family, Skye never questions that her parents are heroes whose political beliefs are going to spark a revolution.

But when Skye becomes a teenager, in the Reagan eighties, she comes face to face with some unpleasant facts: her parents are the town laughingstock, and the anarchist revolution to which they have dedicated their lives is never going to happen. Although even Skye has to admit that some of her parents’ New Agey ideas are pretty kooky, she tries to remain true to her family’s high ideals as she takes the first steps towards finding a place for herself in the world outside her family. But when her parents suddenly break off contact with the family doctor and become fanatical converts to a belief in the healing power of the mind, Skye suspects that her mother is seriously ill and is rejecting the conventional medical treatment that her life depends on.

Writing Style

This is a beautifully measured and paced, first person narrative. I think I found a total of three spelling errors and one instance of a missing word from a sentence. The language was fluid and almost melodic to read. The narrative was such a rich recreation of the various decades that I felt so nostalgic at times, yet I was only born in the mid-80s! The music in the book was an entire character in itself, and marked the progression or non-progression of the character without the reader even realising it.

The only persistent issue that I found was the author’s misplacement (grammatically) of the word “probably”.

“But probably that was just my imagination.” (Locations 2244-2245)

“Probably my face had gone white.” (Location 2980)

“Probably he had been trying to rent it out for some time without success.” (Location 3513)

“”I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard even their music myself, actually,” Eric said.” (Location 4018)

However, this was such a minor issue in the grand scheme of things, and it is often how many people speak, so I doubt most readers would even pick up the error. Any errors were surpassed by the authors uncanny ability to make the reader forget that this is a fictional story. The writing was so seamless that there were times when I felt like I knew Skye and her brother Jude, and her parents, Horton and Kaye. The characters were so wonderfully complex and flawed, that I could see myself in them or other people in my life in them.

“Kaye would have said that it didn’t matter how she looked, that she was not posing for a commercial. But I ran into the bathroom to check myself in the mirror before I let Gabe turn the camera on me.

The photos of Kaye, when Gabe brought them over the next day, surprised and impressed me. Somehow he had managed to capture a beautiful woman on film. There was a mysterious depth and power to the eyes.

The rest of us were there too. Horton typing at the kitchen table. Jude spinning a Frisbee on his index finger. Me and Tad posing arm in arm like a real couple in front of my Patti Smith poster. Zamora and Alexander staring at each other in what appeared to be a funny face competition. Raphael and Lydia waving peace signs at the camera.” (Locations 3147-3152)

The Review

I cannot fully express how much I fell in love with this book as I continued to read it. The story was so beautiful, and funny, and tragic, and sad, and anger inducing, and and and… I especially enjoyed the different aspects of political theory explored by the narrative and its characters. It was obvious that the author is either very well-versed in political study or did a significant amount of research for this book. Either way, it was a wonderfully cohesive narrative. I was impressed by the author’s ability to make a point without taking a side. Objectivity is especially difficult in a first person narrative.

I took comfort in how different Skye and Jude were, even though they were twins growing up with the same parents and lessons. They had differing opinions and experiences of public school, after years of home schooling. They grieved differently, and they loved differently but ultimately all their feelings, and thus actions, however different, were coming from a remarkably similar place. I saw a lot of my own brother and me in them.

The most poignant message that I got from this book is that regardless of beliefs, political affiliation, ethos, race or gender, there comes a point in every person’s life when they realise that their parents are fallible. The realisation that they make mistakes, and sometimes those mistake can shatter your reality. They don’t always react the way that you expect them to. There is a great learning curve that comes with seeing your parents as human for the first time. When the hero worship and awe fall away, and you see them in plan light; where their mortality is undeniable and inevitable. That moment is sometimes horrific and terrifying because you realise that there might not be a sure answer to all your questions in the future.

I have rarely felt so many emotions while reading a book or watching a film, but there were at least three instances where I came close to crying. I never cry. I’ve read very few books that have been such a balanced blend of tragic and uplifting. Many of the scenarios and events hit a little too close to home to be comfortable and that was what I loved. Though there is a fair amount of political theory in the narrative, the books shows the reader that ultimately none of that matters because we are all human, and that we are more similar than we are different.

I recommend this book to anyone and everyone, regardless of your preferred genre or political leanings.

My rating: 5/5

The Anarchist Thing to Do is available on Amazon.

This review was requested by the author.

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