Flower Children

( 5 )

Overview

'A work of stunning lyricism and intense originality'(Mary Gordon, author of Pearl). From an award-winning short story writer comes this spare, lively, moving novel, quickly embraced by critics and readers, portraying the strangely celebrated and unsupervised childhood of four hippie offspring in the 1970s and 80s. Based on the author's own upbringing, Flower Children tells the story of four children growing up in rural Pennsylvania, impossibly at odds with their surroundings. In time, as the sheltered utopia ...

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Flower Children

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Overview

'A work of stunning lyricism and intense originality'(Mary Gordon, author of Pearl). From an award-winning short story writer comes this spare, lively, moving novel, quickly embraced by critics and readers, portraying the strangely celebrated and unsupervised childhood of four hippie offspring in the 1970s and 80s. Based on the author's own upbringing, Flower Children tells the story of four children growing up in rural Pennsylvania, impossibly at odds with their surroundings. In time, as the sheltered utopia their parents have created begins to collapse, the children long for structure and restraint-and all their parents have avoided.

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Editorial Reviews

LA Times Book Review
[Flower Children] is full of the visceral pleasures and anxieties of childhood.
People
Hypnotic. . . Swann's writing is mesmerizing . . . readers won't soon forget the portraits of flower children struggling to bloom in a very different world from the one in which they were first planted. (Four Stars, Critic's Choice))
Vogue
A spellbinding novel-in-stories about the progeny of Harvard-educated hippies . . . Swann evokes the wonder of childhood with an almost hallucinatory precision.
Bookforum
Swann expertly handles the complex emotions of both boys and girls as they progress in age to adolescence and adulthood . . . Swann is a restrained, elegant writer, who lets her sentences build slowly, as if she were assembling a structure brick by brick. I nearly emptied my pen of ink underlining passages.
Providence Journal
Provocative . . . Swann deftly and vividly encapsulates the flip side to an eccentric upbringing.
Lydia Millet
Maxine Swann's new book…is a "novel in stories" that offers shimmering, episodic glimpses into the life of a hippie family in the 1970s—four children and two eccentric parents. The book's eight narratives follow the children through their lives at one- to two-year intervals as they explore, observe and are spirited away on road trips by their impulsive and bawdy father (whose girlfriends they slyly torment) and their more quietly rebellious mother (whose boyfriends they barely tolerate)…Though social and political frictions crop up, mostly between the extended family's genteel, old-money relatives and clueless interlopers from the outside, it's the father's movie-star personality that invigorates the collection. Readers may find themselves missing him in stories where he fails to appear…mostly the stories are light and appealing, conjuring the entropy of summer's end and of a dewy rural utopia.
—The New York Times Book Review
Michiko Kakutani
Writing in lucid, crystalline prose that shifts back and forth from the first person to the third, Ms. Swann has expanded a short story that scooped up a handful of prizes (the O. Henry Award, the Pushcart Prize and Ploughshares’ Cohen Award) and turned it into a small gem of a novel, a novel that showcases her eye for detail, her psychological acuity, her ability to conjure up a particular place and time.
— The New York Times
Indianapolis Star-Press
I thought about this book when I wasn't reading it, and I looked forward to returning to it and delving further. I was left wanting to know more about this family of unique characters. Like a missing friend who lives far away, but visits regularly. Not loss, anticipation.
New York Times
Writing in lucid, crystalline prose...[Swann] captures the incongruities of the 1970s counterculture as seen from the point of view of a young child, the shifting attitudes the narrator and her three siblings take toward the adult world as they slip-slide from childhood into adolescence, and the incalculable ways in which the passage of time colorizes the past.
Publishers Weekly

This wistful, episodic second novel by Swann (Serious Girls) is made up of vignettes about four sibling "flower children" whose parents are Pennsylvania farm country back-to-the-land hippies. Swann portrays the free-floating '70s coming-of-age of these four siblings—Lu, Maeve (who narrates much of the novel), Tuck and Clyde—who delight in running freely in the countryside, but grow embarrassed by the unconventional practices of their politically active, casual-dressing parents. Their parents, Sam, a Harvard graduate, and Dee, a gardener and artist, built their own house, and though they aim to raise their children in an ideal world "in which nothing is lied about, whispered about, and nothing is ever concealed," the parents separate, and subsequent storylike chapters delineate their children's sometimes rocky confrontation with the world of TVs, junk food and schoolyard cliques. The parents' transient love interests make impressions on the children: Dee's live-in boyfriend, Bobby, avenges the shooting of the children's dogs by local hunters; later, the children set out to rid themselves of Sam's latest squeeze, a glamorous but dim-witted psychologist. Swann wisely forgoes childlike stream-of-consciousness narration in favor of lean, direct storytelling, a choice that makes this more substantial and rewarding than the vast majority of coming-of-age novels. (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal
Swann won a bouquet of prizes (e.g., the O. Henry Award) when she published the first chapter of this work as a short story in 1997, so expect interest in this tale of the children of hippies raising themselves in the Seventies. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Hippies' offspring turn out to be as anxious and confused as regular kids. Swann opens with an idyllic portrait of four children running free in rural Pennsylvania: "They spend their whole lives in trees . . . they discover locust shells, treefrogs, a gypsy moth's cocoon." Their idealistic parents intend to create a new world "in which nothing is lied about . . . [or] concealed," but soon their father has moved out, their mother has a new boyfriend and the kids are attending school, where "they're mortified by what they know and have seen." (Most grade-schoolers have not heard their father describe the differences between the way their mother and other women make love.) The narration shifts from rapturous third person to the voice of Maeve, who chronicles the next five years with older sister Lu and younger brothers Tuck and Clyde as they negotiate the minefields laid by their parents' bohemian ways. Their talkative, feckless father gets most of the attention; in the best and funniest chapter, "Intervention," we learn that Dad's parents and siblings are as odd as he is. Their mother's mother, by contrast, is conventional and censorious; at her house, the children are embarrassed by their mother's earnestness and unconventional clothes. "Secret" examines Lu's and Maeve's relationships with other kids at school, including two brothers, big-city transplants rumored to have moved to Pennsylvania due to trouble back home. Though Maeve kisses the older boy a few times, class trumps ideals; she and Lu are sent to a better school to prepare for college, while the Kalowski brothers fall into petty crime. It's hard to discern what readers are meant to take away from this parade of disjointedchapters that reads more like a story collection than a novel. Swann's prose is as lovely as ever, but her insights here are less penetrating, her portrait of a hippie childhood vaguer than the razor-sharp specificity with which she delineated adolescence in Serious Girls (2003). More of a mood piece than a novel.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594483110
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/3/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 936,489
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Maxine Swann has been awarded Ploughshares’ Cohen Award for best fiction of the year, an O. Henry Award, and a Pushcart Prize, and her work has been included in The Best American Short Stories of 1998 and 2006. Her first novel, Serious Girls, was published in 2003. Swann, who has lived in Paris and Pakistan, now lives in Buenos Aires.

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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION
“They’ll create a new world—one that has no relation to the world they have known—in which nothing is lied about, whispered about, and nothing is ever concealed.” (p. 6)

Maxine Swann’s Flower Children is the intimate, shocking, funny, heartrending, and exultant story of four children growing up in rural Pennsylvania, the offspring of devout hippies who turned their backs on Ivy League education in favor of experiments in communal living and a whole new world for their children.

For Maeve, Lu, Tuck, and Clyde, childhood is a blur of exploration and adventure. It is the 1970s, and their parents have embraced communal living and absolute honesty. A swing hangs in the middle of the living room. The children run free all day, dance naked in the rain, climb apple trees, ride ponies, press their faces into showers of leaves, rub mud all over their bodies and sit out in the sun to let it dry. When their parents invite other adults for skinny-dipping in the creek, the children memorize all the body parts to discuss later among themselves.

The children, in turn, find themselves impossibly at odds with their surroundings and the rural community of which they are a part, both delighted and unnerved by a life without limits. First their parents split, bringing new lovers into the family, and then puberty hits, and suddenly the ground seems to shift, and the children realize their freedoms have not come without cost to their innocence.

Haunting and celebratory by turns, Swann’s beautifully written book is both an unforgettable portrayal of a unique generation and culture, and a luminous coming-of-age story, vividly capturing the universal longings, sorrows, and joys of childhood.

ABOUT MAXINE SWANN

Maxine Swann has been awarded Ploughshares’ Cohen Award for best fiction of the year, an O. Henry Award, and a Pushcart Prize, and her work has been included in The Best American Short Stories of 1998 and 2006. Her first novel, Serious Girls, was published in 2003. Swann, who has lived in Paris and Pakistan, now lives in Buenos Aires.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • Soon after learning about God, the children “become convinced one night that their mother is a robber. They hear her creeping through the house alone, lifting and rattling things.” (p. 11) What do their fears signify?
     
  • Despite the fact that ostensibly “nothing is ever concealed,” the children are kept ignorant of their parents’ failing marriage. Do you believe it’s possible to raise children with the kind of honesty Sam and Faye hope to foster?
     
  • Maeve “kept up a wary friendship” (p. 27) with the only other child of hippies in her class at school. Why didn’t their shared upbringing and parental values bring them closer together?
     
  • Discuss the incident during which Sam deliberately provokes the punk rockers the family encounters on a trip to Washington, D.C. What do his actions say about him?
     
  • Sam deliberately hides the fact that he attended Harvard and “loves when he’s shown up to be a fool.” (p. 50) Why do you think he loves “the idea of someone ‘looking dumb’” (p.75)?
     
  • Swann’s novel is told in both first and third person. What is the effect of the shifting narrative style?
     
  • Compare Maeve’s relationship with her parents to the relationships between Sam and Faye and their parents.
     
  • “Tuck insists. He’s nine now. He knows how father is” (p.151). Reacting to their parents’ free-wheeling behavior, the children learn responsibility at a much earlier age than their peers. Is this a good thing?
     
  • Sam’s and Faye’s presence in the book—and Maeve’s consciousness—seems to recede after Sam’s clumsy attempt to seduce Pat. Was that a turning point for Maeve?
     
  • “It didn’t matter what we thought. Shirley was in charge” (p. 170). How did Sam’s behavior prepare Maeve and Lu for her bullying?
     
  • The arrival of the Kowalski boys coincides with the arrival of puberty for the girls. In what other ways does Swann link sexuality with danger and death?
     
  • What does the Rose of Sharon bush signify for Maeve?
     
  • “They invent memories. They confuse which thing happened to whom” (p. 207). Can you think of a childhood memory about which you’re not really certain? What does that memory mean to you?
     
  • In retrospect, does Maeve feel that her childhood was any better or worse than most?
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 25, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    not all that I'd hoped for...

    The idea of Flower Children really intrigued me. Here are four children raised by hippie parents. They have a swing hanging from their living room ceiling and they are brought up on anti-nuclear protests. While the story was interesting it's not one that's particularly memorable. A week from now I'd probably be hard pressed to describe what happened in the book. Maybe that's partly due to the fact that nothing really does happen in the book. Flower Children is just a chain of accounts from their lives that bring the children from a very young age up to puberty. It was a quick read and entertaining but not all that that I'd hoped for.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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