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A decorous bouquet of wild flowers from 'Children'

Offspring of unfettered hippies discover the joys of squareness.

By Kit Reed, Special to the Times
Published August 12, 2007


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Flower Children
By Maxine Swann
Riverhead Books, 211 pages, $21.95

- - - 

Some of us were there, either hip-deep in muddy vegetable patches or as astonished weekenders watching as friends changed their stripes before our very eyes.

It was the height of the '60s; that's the early 1970s to you. By that time raging flower power fever had spread from Chicago, Berkeley and the Haight to bourgeois living rooms.

Overnight, people with ordinary lives donned tie-dyed shirts and flares and took to the woods, living out the dream in decrepit farmhouses where marriages crumbled and new couples formed.

In these boozy, weed-fueled versions of Brooke Farm, the children ate when somebody thought of it and slept where they fell. Some of us suspected that in reaction to all that freedom, those children might grow up irremediably square.

At school, Maxine Swann writes in this loosely strung collection of stories about one such family, "They get prizes for obedience, for following the rules down to the last detail. They're delighted by these rules, these arbitrary lines that regulate behavior and mark off forbidden things and they examine them closely and exhaust their teachers with questions about . . . the rules."

Maeve, the narrator, draws the exact moments at which the four children understand their parents are not responsible and become grownups far before their time.

Their dad takes them to visit his wealthy parents, whose own attempts to go back to the earth have failed. They visit their maternal grandmother with her beautifully kept antiques and her antique boyfriend. They stay at the home of their father's best friend from Harvard, the reader's first insight into who this old hippie used to be before he cut loose to follow the dream.

A graceful writer, Swann captures the spirit of both generations in slight, delicately sketched moments, leaving this reader, at least, wishing she had filled in the rest.

Kit Reed's most recent novel is "The Baby Merchant."

 

[Last modified August 9, 2007, 15:32:37]


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