Some time ago I recommended the short stories of T.C. Boyle in his fantastic and unforgettable collection After the Plague. If you read it (and, of course, you did), you know the man's incredible powers in the short story format. This more recent novel proves his powers extend to the novel length as well (not always true of some writers).
This is far from Boyle's first novel, but it's the first one I've read and most certainly will not be the last. Here he explores the world of a failing hippie commune in 1970 in Southern California and expands on one of the best stories in After the Plague, the one about men seeking wives in desolate rural Alaska. These two fringe groups end up sharing the Alaskan wilderness together with results as explosive as you might think, but never in the ways you might expect. I was really struck by this book's wild unpredictability and the people, places, and events that feel so real and natural. The book becomes so much more interesting due to the lack of symbolic characters and hit you over the head themes. The commune descriptions (vivid and rather brutal at times) have been called very realistic by those that lived it.
No groovy feel good tale is this, but neither is it a condemnation on the ideals of the hippy way of life. There are commune members that are selfish and more attracted to free love than to love itself, and there are those that live by real ideals and truly try to prosper and help their friends. The Alaskan frontiersmen are just as complex and varied from quiet, strong men, to insane jerks. Watching these worlds unfold and sometimes fall apart is an intriguing journey.