Utopia? As Olin describes it, Synanon sounds more like a dreadful futuristic fun house out of A Clockwork Orange: this weird...

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ESCAPE FROM UTOPIA: My Ten Years in Synanon

Utopia? As Olin describes it, Synanon sounds more like a dreadful futuristic fun house out of A Clockwork Orange: this weird crew of ex-alcoholics, addicts, and criminals mingling with bourgeois dreamers (Olin himself is an architect) in a plastic New Jerusalem. It's pure California--radical, hip, histrionic. The sacramental core of Synanon is ""the Game,"" a vicious but supposedly therapeutic verbal orgy where 8-15 people pretend they're Don Rickles and take turns shredding one another with a barrage of obscene, jargon-filled mockery. (In Synanonese the usual term for human being is ""asshole."") For a restless spirit like Olin--a recently divorced refugee from the Midwest and dropout from a Unitarian seminary--Synanon seemed ideal. After hovering around the fringe for a while, he became a ""lifestyler resident"" in Oakland, along with his second wife and their infant son, in 1970. The next few years were busy and fulfilling, as Olin designed buildings for the fast-growing empire of founder Charles Dederich, but before very long the streets paved with gold began to show some ugly potholes. One day Dederich broke his own absolute taboo against violence by pouring root beer on an obnoxious woman participant in ""the Game."" Eventually Synanon launched a brutal campaign against its critics, culminating in the attempted murder of L.A. attorney Paul Morantz (by the now-famous rattlesnake-in-the-mailbox method). Olin witnessed all sorts of minor atrocities (""creative humiliation"") without demurring, but Dederich's megalomania finally became unbearable. The mass head-shavings were one thing (both Olin and his wife gladly obliged), but mass vasectomies, divorces, and abortions at ""Chuck's"" command were another. Olin can be morally obtuse at times, and his story meanders all over the place, but it has some flashes of insight and lots of verve: in its own artless way, a valuable contribution to the bulging annals of American social experiment.

Pub Date: July 1, 1980

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Unity Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1980