FLOWER CHILDREN, by Maxine Swann

I read about Flower Children, by Maxine Swann, in the July issue of Bookpage, my favorite library book circular. It came out last summer but is recently out in paperback. From Bookpage:

Swann Swann offers an impressively constructed narrative about a pair of hippie parents and the children they raise in the Pennsylvania farm country during the 1970s and ’80s. The children, Lu, Maeve, Tuck and Clyde, grow up roaming the fields and doing as they please. It’s an idyllic existence until the children mature and become self-conscious about their unorthodox upbringing. Their father, Sam, is an intellectual who graduated from Harvard, while their mother, Dee, is an artist. Both are politically conscious members of the counterculture who try to instill in their children the importance of honesty and freedom. Their lessons about life start to ring false, however, once their marriage hits a rough patch. When Dee and Sam separate, the split turns the family upside-down. The children are soon exposed to unfamiliar facets of popular culture, including television and junk food. They also observe the romantic entanglements of their parents. There’s Dee’s new companion, a macho type named Bobby, and Sam’s psychologist friend, who is gorgeous but dense. The events in this unconventional family history are recounted mostly by Maeve, whose narration is by turns hilarious, moving and wise. Swann’s bittersweet novel convincingly documents the moods and manners of hippie culture, raising provocative questions along the way about the strengths, weaknesses and contradictions that defined a controversial generation.

This “novel told in stories” was reviewed by The New York Times last summer when it came out in hardcover. From the review:

[M]ostly the stories are light and appealing, conjuring the entropy of summer’s end and of a dewy rural utopia. In the first and last stories, the children are referred to as a herd of undifferentiated beings known only as “they,” a successful conceit that invites us to consider the subjects not as individuals but as a category. And for this category of people — children who are given the leisure and freedom to wander and play in a mysterious, living and dying outdoors — Flower Children is a gentle elegy. “They” are the lucky ones who know apple trees and bugs and ponds and getting dirty and how the light changes and the way grass smells at dusk; “they” are the ones who, by looking outward at the wonders of the world instead of inward at themselves, are able to survive their childhoods and adolescences intact, to come back and revisit the lost kingdom of apple trees and lilacs after they grow old. Those children in other categories — who sit, for instance, for many hours every day between vertical panels of Sheetrock, gazing at the transmigration of pixels — may not be so lucky.

Without nature, Swann seems to be saying, not much will be left to wax nostalgic about in future memories of childhood.

And here is an interview with Maxine Swann from Small Spiral Notebook. In it, she says, ” My novel is autobiographical to a degree. Whenever narrative necessity dictates, I toss biography aside without a thought. . . I think too much freedom is dizzying and frightening, for children and adults alike. We’re all always looking for parameters and rules, for ourselves and others, even if we then want to go ahead and cross them. This is one of the ways we form who we are. On the other hand, the thrill of dizziness is not to be overlooked. I actually find that now that I’m older and less frightened of things, I’m much more able to appreciate and play with all the dizzying possibilities my upbringing presented.”

Anyone out there read this?