A former commune, now organic farm, is at the center of Joyous Lies by Margaret Ann Spence as a group of aging hippies is forced to confront what’s next in their lives. The catalyst is the arrival of a documentary film crew, approved by the group’s charismatic leader Neil but objected to by his partner Johanna. As filming commences, old hurts and jealousies arise.
Meanwhile, granddaughter Maelle is struggling to finish her Ph.D. thesis about plant communication. Raised on the farm, she has a strong connection to the land. When Neil’s parents (who owned the land) die, and his siblings want to sell the land, many questions are raised. If the land is sold, the pristine environment would be razed for expensive real estate. If it isn’t, how can a group of old hippies, now beset by arthritis and other age-related problems, continue to support themselves?
The commune was not as idyllic as presented, and author Margaret Ann Spence unspools secrets, denials, hypocrisy, and lies. There is a huge chasm between the ideals of the commune, set up by hopeful young draft dodgers, and the harsh reality of survival.
I saw this novel as being, in part, about reflecting on one’s earlier life and choices. Are there regrets? Did we do the right thing? How can we face the big mistakes we made without being utterly destroyed by them? In other words, people are complicated…something young, idealistic Maelle will need to learn.
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