Book Review – Hippie Drum by Jnana Hodson

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The closest I ever came to being considered a “hippie chick” was when I donned long flowing clothes and left my long hair loose during dress-up “spirit” days in school. The “hippie culture” is something I’ve learned about through the gray-scale photographs in textbooks and the grainy black and white footage of history documentaries. It’s different to read a first-hand account. Hippie Drum by Jnana Hodson is a novel that examines one man’s journey to define “hippie,” to find love and community and maybe even himself in those first few difficult years after college. Self-reflective and insightful, the novel feels more like a memoir.

DL is a photographer who accepts the invitation of his ex-girlfriend’s former roommate and moves into “the Ranch,” where a group of people seemingly growing by the day divvies up space and splits the rent. In various states of schooling, employment and relationships, they seem to share a desire to avoid confrontation, however frustrating or inconvenient to the individual. With countless roommates and a job with regular work (if not regular hours), DL moves between his different overlapping social circles surrounded by couples (both committed and swapping partners) but struggles to find anyone that he can connect with on a deeper level.

Self-published and offered for free download here, Jnana Hodson’s novel has many insights, but also, realistically, shows how DL can come to the same conclusion many times through many avenues. DL finds some of what he’s looking for through eastern Buddhist teachings and practices but these are mentioned sporadically more than explored in a way that would speak to readers unfamiliar with Buddhism.

The characters prove at times to be as elusive for the reader as they are for DL. Like the portraits he infrequently snaps with his camera, the images are there but the fuller sense of self is elusive (often, as DL discovers repeatedly, even to themselves). The parade of near misses with women of drastically different personalities shows how lost DL is in his search, but also the interesting things one discovers while looking for something specific.

Overflowing with hints of themes that I wish were explored in greater depth, from the generational gap between WWII and the war in Vietnam to women’s struggle to define themselves as opinions shift and options open, everything in the novel has an ephemeral feel to it. But that is largely the point. Our experiences and the people we share them with, even who we are or who we feel we are at any given moment are transitory and can never be recaptured.

The novel’s pacing and rhythm can take some getting used to. Chapter Four is a behemoth that dwarfs the other fifteen chapters but all are broken into smaller units (occasionally so short they make little sense in the larger scheme of things). All, however, contribute to a style that is quietly engaging and unavoidably distinctive. Subdued and laid back, imperfect but not trying to be, Jnana Hodson’s Hippie Drum embodies the recurring sentiment of “be cool.”

Check out Jnana Hodson’t blog, Jnana’s Red Barn, at jnanahodson.net.

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