A hippie commune called Hope Farm offers neither hope nor farming to its bedraggled residents.
“The crops had failed, the goats were gone, the compost was rotten, but still they stayed, these people. I suppose they had nowhere better to go. It was the eighties—they were a dying breed.” Frew’s (House of Sticks, 2011) second novel is an Australian cousin of T.C. Boyle’s Drop City, Lauren Groff’s Arcadia, and other novels about the failures of communal living, with additional connections to Esther Freud’s Hideous Kinky and Ian McEwan’s Atonement. The book follows two narrative paths in parallel. One is the unedited journal of a sexually abused teenager who becomes pregnant and is shipped off by her parents to have her baby in secret and give it up for adoption. She decides she’s not going to do it and fortunately has kept the number of a woman she met in a park who told her to call for help anytime. Taken in by this woman and her orange-robed spiritual community, the new mother changes her name and disappears from her old life. The second thread is the story of a 13-year-old girl named Silver and her young, beautiful mother, Ishtar. “It’s hard to remember much from before Hope,” Silver explains. “We lived in so many places—and in my memory they’ve merged to form a kind of hazy, overlapping backdrop.” Every time her mother gets a new boyfriend, they’re off to another ramshackle setup, but this time, Ishtar says, they’ll move on by themselves, leaving for an adventure overseas. Then along comes a man named Miller, and Ishtar is swept up in yet another short-lived sexual swoon. Hope Farm is where Silver’s patience with her mother runs out, with explosive results.
The aching loneliness of almost every character is subtly and movingly depicted as generations of weak parenting and secrecy take their toll.