Ancient hippies, defying mortality, rise up against the administrators of their retirement community in this near-future black comedy.
Poor Guy Fontaine. Momentarily disoriented after his wife’s death, the spry 72-year-old drives his cart off a California golf course and onto an interstate. That one lapse allows his daughter Claudia to take control of his assets and bundle him into the Mission Pescadero, which provides, in the year 2022, both A.L. (Assisted Living) and N.C. (Nursing Care), meaning heavy sedation. Guy, a native Oklahoman and former sports editor, is an anomaly in this coastal California institution, most of whose residents are former hippies trapped in their memories of the Summer of Love (1967) or the 1969 confrontation at Berkeley; they still hunger for multiple sex partners (“monogamy is so . . . Eisenhower”). But Guy does find a kindred spirit in Roxanne, known as Rocky, who got a life as a waitress after the hippie scene faded. Sandlin gives these two a full measure of humanity (and his best writing), while treating the other residents as decrepit freaks (one has a face that “looks like a potato that’s been stored under the sink too long”). When administrator Alexandra Truman, a bitchy disciplinarian, confiscates one old geezer’s cat (house rule: no pets), Guy defends him, decking a staff member. The rebellion is underway, led by a canny crone with a walker who’s reliving her days as a ’60s militant. She outwits law enforcement (the hippie-hating Lieutenant Monk) tactically and strategically (“Our power is our age”), though she can’t prevent an anarchic resident spiking the community’s tea with acid. When Monk, armed to the teeth, goes berserk, the cat-owner heroically disables him, dying in the process. The female governor arrives and sides with the residents; as a tribute to their fallen comrade, they all drop their skirts or pants—the novel’s second mass-mooning.
Sandlin’s seventh novel (after Honey Don’t, not reviewed) has some lively flourishes, but the one-note humor quickly palls.