Monday, May 7, 2012

family by Micol Ostow

Published April 26, 2011.

Author website.

It is a day like any other when seventeen-year-old Melinda Jensen hits the road for San Francisco, leaving behind her fractured home life and a constant assault on her self-esteem. Henry is the handsome, charismatic man who comes upon her, collapsed on a park bench, and offers love, a bright new consciousness, and—best of all—a family. One that will embrace her and give her love. Because family is what Mel has never really had. And this new family, Henry’s family, shares everything. They share the chores, their bodies, and their beliefs.  And if Mel truly wants to belong, she will share in everything they do. No matter what the family does, or how far they go.  (

First and foremost, I am NOT sympathetic to the whole hippie subculture.  Not in the slightest.  They need to shower and get jobs, quite frankly.  And develop an opinion that isn't based in LSD highs and commune thought process.  So why did I opt to review a book that is exactly this mentality?  Because it's pretty much a roman a clef of the Manson family and I thought it'd be an interesting fictionalization.  It further solidified my disdain for hippie speak and mentality and it was interesting but I felt the ending was a bit of a cop out.

Told in episodic verse, kind of expanded poetry, it kind of made the whole story a bit hazy to read.  There were times I had trouble figuring out what was going on because the language got a bit purple but I could buy it as the flower child's thought process.  So it wasn't too bad in that regard.  But still it was a bit thick.  Although it did do a good job in its thickness to portray life at the commune/cult.  The flowery-ness flowed in the sexual drug haze that surrounded the MC all the time.  And I really liked the little cracks in the facade, where Mel got bits and pieces of what all of this was really about but after some more magical mystery juice and free love she was sucked right back into it.

You get to see that all of these people in this compound are broken in some way.  They've been wronged by the people they loved in one regard or another and they ultimately come together in that wrongness to try and make it right.  It's really a nice route to recovery.  Too bad their leader was a sociopath that kept them doped so he could manipulate them into doing what he wanted done.  He perverted the message for his own gain.  Not surprising in the slightest but it was interesting to watch the world break down from broken eyes.

The ending . . . I don't believe this to be a spoiler because we all know how the Manson story ended.  If you don't I highly recommend a history textbook.  Well the story culminated with an event much like the Mason family brought to fruition except in FAMILY one of the victims escapes and the MC gets away.  Fail.  Hard.  Yeah, awesome, that she came to a hardcore self-realization at the end there.  Super.  She's also an accessory to murder.  No sympathy from this chick right here.  Sorry.  I don't know what I was supposed to feel or meant to feel but I was wholly expecting her to run into the arms of the cops.  Nope.  She runs off into the night and the story is left hanging.  An exceptionally unsatisfactory ending.  I don't find this artsy or endearing or quintessential to the whole hippie mindset. I needed it to go down like the real event it was modeled after.  I think Mel would have resonated far more as a character if she didn't get to run away from her problems for a second time.

Don't get me wrong; it wasn't a bad book.  I just wasn't thrilled with it.  I liked the character development and the set-up of the story, the cracks in the hippie visage, even though the prose was on the flowery side.  But the ending was a killer for me.  Very anti-climatic and I didn't feel like there was any kind of justice done.  Mel just gets to continue her cycle of running yet again because she's been broken yet again.  It felt empty and the escape unearned.  After a few months of hedonism you get to get away with conspiring to murder a houseful of people because the high wears off and you realize what you're doing.  Um, no.

So yeah.  It was a quick read because of the verse which I'm kinda glad for.  I don't think I could have taken this story if it were denser although I'd tolerate it if the ending were fixed.

Ban Factor: High - Hippies, drugs, free sex and murder.  Enter the banner psychotic episode.
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