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My take on a wildly popular book, a novel about ideals gone awry, and a very weird DVD.

 

   Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Subtitled From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. The one battered hiking boot on the cover is emblematic, as the book opens with our exhausted, furious, frustrated hiker watching the other plummet into the void, half way through her trip. I was initially appalled and immediately intrigued to eventually discover how she'd made it to her next supply drop. She's fleeing a messed up, miserable life (grief over a mother who dies much too young, a good husband she can't stay faithful to) and hopes the rigor of the journey will bring everything into functional focus. Yes it does, but with so many missteps along the way. Starting with pack she can barely lift and boots a size too small. She's feisty, funny, candid and grateful, all excellent attributes for a companion on the trail or on the page (though she preferred solitude). I couldn't put it down.

   Arcadia by Lauren Groff

I've read a number of fictional evocations of hippie days and this is a particularly good one. The protagonist, Bit (for his stature), is born into this attempt at utopia as idealistic folks finally settle down on a vast, rundown estate. They try to be everything to everyone: a haven for runaways, rehab for "trippies," birthing haven for unwed mothers. This results in a mix of privation as they strain to fix up the wreck of a house with very little money and ecstasy as they put their freewheeling principles into practice. There's a schism in leadership (though it's supposed to be egalitarian), and a crisis as Arcadia gets overrun with unruly crowds on a festival day which brings in The Law. The community falls apart very fast and Bit is now out in the terrifying, baffling real world. We follow the ex-denizens for three decades, many scarred by their time in supposed paradise. Bit and family end up back on the land while his mother Hannah is dying of ALS and that provides Bit with a chance to make his peace with all the came down. Vivid and rueful.

 

   Dogtooth (DVD)

This Greek film is one of the weirdest I've ever seen. Billed as a comedy but if that's humor...However it's haunting and disturbing and worth watching for its originality. The world is a dangerous place, posits these parents, so they bring up their three children, now adolescents, in a hermetically sealed environment. It looks like paradise, complete with well used swimming pool. The viewer immediately knows something is way off when a tutorial on tape gives a totally screwy vocabulary lesson (i.e. "carbine" is a small yellow flower). The kids are tall, long-legged, blond, but with flattened affect, except, for instance, when one girl is hacking her Barbie to pieces, complete with blood curdling screams. There's lots of sexuality, with the same robotic quality. First a young woman brought in to service the boy, and then when she crosses some line and is violently expunged, they're left with each other. The most amazing scene is the parents' anniversary party in which the girls do a manic, maladroit dance featuring all the popular moves through the ages, from "Flashdance" on. Be forewarned, but if you have dark tastes, like mine, give it a whirl and let it into your psyche where it won't let go.
 

back next week...

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