Received a copy of A Far Strange Country: Banquet of Choices by Arielle Hunter through the First Reads Giveaway program in exchange for an honest review
"The baby Ben on Pauline's nightstand jangled out an alarm. She slapped the top of the clock. Buck stirred, then settled deeper under the covers She looked into the pale sunlight filtering through a sheer curtain. 'I wonder what this day will bring.' "
1960's San Francisco, California a hotbed for the hippie movement it has reached full stride in 1968 after the failure of the Vietnam war. At an earlier point it was regarded as a harmless subculture, in 1968 it has become a full on revolution, a counterculture just before it would reach its peak a year later at the inaugural Woodstock. At a time when conservative, middle class, right-wing officials were trying to infiltrate and destroy the movement, it is still a viable way of life to this day. A Far Strange Country tells a story about a few people who live by these belief systems and some that will never understand.
1968 Berkeley, California a man overdoses on a fatal dose of opiates and alcohol with his son present and by his side in the dead of night. He was unconscious for seven hours before help arrived. In Sierra Nevada Pauline Harper and her husband Buck have been living a life of solitude with their horses and dogs on an expansive farmland. Their only son Steven abruptly left home and enlisted in the army to fight in Vietnam. Pauline and Buck have not heard from their son for five years now. Donatello Dragghi has been forced to become a reluctant immigrant from Italy after cavorting with the wrong woman. Mieke just so happened to be a wife of a mobster and an Italian MP named Caggiari. His audacity and eagerness left him a breath away from death, but permanently damaged to one of his hands with a one-way ticket out of town in his other hand. For a change of luck his father bought him a gypsy wife hoping that the responsibility will bring a stability to his life. Now in San Francisco, they are staying with his uncle Lorenzo while they get accustomed to the culture. For what it's worth Dona is a successful European actor, but he also suffers from epilepsy that he refuses to medicate. His success as an actor has not translated in America predominantly because of the gratuitous sex and violence in his film. As more time goes by, his confusion and his disdain for America increase exponentially. Without an agent, without a job, Dona must use his foreign charm to get some in's before his momentum as a cult hero runs out of steam.
Steven Harper is holed up in Immaculate Heart hospital in a coma, and is hemiplegic leaving the left side of his body paralyzed, but the thing that irks his girlfriend Shara the most is that they cut his long hair and he is clean shaven. Shara and Steven have been living as "hippies" with values centered on altruism, nonviolence, inebriation, sex, and mysticism. His girlfriend Shara was fifteen when Steven impregnated her and had a boy named Donovan. For three years the little boy was raised in a household that was more like a truck stop with garbage all over the place, sticky floors, people coming-and-going as they pleased, cockroaches, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. For some that's the life, for others that will lead to the end of your life, or get you life in a federal institution. At the Orion Institute Parker teaches the art of the mind through the unification of eternal and internal individuals to the universal consciousness. He has a gaggle of spiritual believers that are at his beck and call when finances run dry or he needs his ego boosted. One of his most famous and biggest boosters is Deborah Donaldson. Once coined "America's Little Sweetheart" Deborah is trying to shed that image as she has developed and will host her own talk show that will feature Parker as her primary guest for her pilot show. Some people question his motives, but what you can't question is the devotion exhibited by his followers.
"Parker slumped down on the deck. 'Then my perception was wrong and the night will not be as planned. And it's my birthday...how could this happen?'
Gregg sat beside him. 'Maybe the number was supposed to change. And the change was hidden within the circularity of fate.'
'Maybe. But being god, why didn't I perceive it?'
'As you say in your book - your most famous statement, 'The chaos created by unexpected events can be strokes of fate.' '
Parker sighed. 'Why must everyone quote my book to me?'
'Well your book is brilliant...'
Parker nodded. 'Yes. Of course, you're right. The change must have always been there, but hidden from me for some unknown purpose.' "
This book is exactly as advertised. The book centers on the hippie movement of the 1960's with all of its out of sight, far-out, free love and freedom, in direct contrast with the lives of the square and ordinary common folk. The author had me hooked early but like a good high I gradually came down and by the end I was left sober and wanting more. There were so many loose ends that were left untied. I personally don't need a neat and tidy ending with closure on all accounts, but this story was enough to leave me bothered. I take it there is a second book, which is odd because usually the prior book will not leave the reader with so many assumptions. It left me a little uncomfortable not knowing some of the things that I wanted to know.
"They passed mile after mile of bleak, featureless, shoebox buildings overhung by sagging power lines on treeless streets. A never ending landscape of stucco, concrete, and asphalt. Small lackluster cities strung together by a thread of freeway that seemed to stretch past infinity. The relentless monotony seeming only to heighten their sense of urgency."