"Abel is a perceptive writer whose astute observations keep the book funny and light . . . An exploration of the limits of idealism . . . subversive." —The New York Times Book Review
A smart and sly story about a utopian summer camp, a charismatic leader, and the people who are drawn to his vision, The Optimistic Decade follows four unforgettable characters and a piece of land that changes everyone who lives on it. There is Caleb, founder of the back-to-the-land camp Llamalo, who is determined to teach others to live simply. There is Donnie, the rancher who gave up his land to Caleb and who now wants it back. There is Rebecca, determined to become an activist like her father and undone by the spell of both Llamalo and new love. And there is David, a teenager who has turned Llamalo into his personal religion. The Optimistic Decade brilliantly explores love, class, and the bloom and fade of idealism, and asks smart questions about good intentions gone wrong.
Heather Abel was raised in Santa Monica, California. She attended Swarthmore College and subsequently worked as a reporter and editor for political newspapers. Her essays have been published in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Slate, and elsewhere. She received her MFA in fiction from the New School, where she later taught creative nonfiction writing. She lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, with her husband and two daughters.
The Optimistic Decade 3 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
The “Optimistic Decade” when so many thought they could effectuate change by writing and talking and discussing. This was the time of self-discovery by the young while the adults were busy elsewhere. Behind all this optimism the large corporations fed the marginalized promises of more and better opportunities. For small isolated towns it was a modern-day gold rush, but when the profits did not materialize towns were decimated and inhabitants lost everything.
Constantly jabbing at me was the universal theme of parents who are so self-involved in their causes that they ignore the children who love them unconditionally. Is it possible for an intelligent person to not understand that the strength of their personality, the incapacity to listen, the neglect of affection ultimately deprives their children of the ability to build their own sense of belief and character? Is it any surprise that these young people try to emulate the teeth-gnashing diatribe about the injustices of the sociopolitical system?
David will run away from the mess and search out a more accepting place. He will understand that his parents’ “ideas are all wrong. For them everything is anti, against. And this anger at everything, it means they’re basically paralyzed.” Rebecca, will try to please her father and do as asked because she sees her him as a brilliant, brave, decision maker who is always and ever all about all issues of inequality and injustice as he publishes another manifesto and ultimately is unable to give her more than his confusion. And then there is Caleb, the always happy Leader who arrived at his destiny through little more than right place, right/wrong time and a bit of chicanery. Caleb’s visionary summer camp, LLamalo ,“The-West of-which- I-speak”, Colorado, located on lands formerly known as the Double L Ranch and owned by father and son, Don and Donnie Talc who want their land back.
Can the vision survive “when the world feels malleable and the self strong” or is it only for a decade, gone and never to return?
This book left me with a sense of disbelief. If I am honest it is my failure to realize and acknowledge that things happened exactly as described in this book. Well written but slow moving.
Thank You NetGalley and Algonquin Books for an ARC
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