Monday, February 6, 2012

Book Review: "Wild Abandon" by Joe Dunthorne

Sometimes you read a book and once you've finished it, you know right away whether or not you liked it. And then there are times when you finish a book and you have no idea what to make of it. Joe Dunthorne's Wild Abandon is definitely a book that falls into the latter category for me. Pieces of the story I really loved, but sadly Dunthorne took the story into some really strange places, which definitely tempered my feelings overall.

Freya and Don Riley have lived in a commune-type community in the English countryside for many years, since they co-founded "the community" with two other friends. Their two children, Kate and Albert, have been raised living the philosophies their parents have instilled in all residents. But things are starting to change. The community is on a decline, down to a skeleton crew. Kate has enrolled in school for the first time and is hoping to get into college, and she has come into contact with "regular" students and cafeteria food for the first time. Albert has fallen under the influence of another resident's end-of-the-world philosophies. And Freya is tired of it all, especially her husband. Wild Abandon follows the Rileys and their friends through all of the changes and the chaos that results.

At its heart, this is a book about change—how we need it, how we crave it, but how we resist it at every turn. Dunthorne has created some very dynamic characters, but in an effort to give each flaws, he sacrifices their appeal. While the characters may exhibit behaviors you might expect from individuals who haved lived for so long on a commune, many of them veer into truly uncomfortable territory, which turned the book for me. There's no doubt that Dunthorne is a really talented writer—and I'm considering reading his earlier book, Submarine—but I found this book ultimately unsatisfying because of the behaviors of many of its characters. Bummer.

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