Sunday, June 15, 2014

Total Loss Farm

Total Loss Farm: A Year in the Life by Raymond Mungo
Pharos Editions reissue: 6/1/2014 (1970)
ebook, 176 pages
ISBN-13: 9781940436036

Total Loss Farm attracted widespread attention, critical and commercial success in 1970, when the "back to the land" hippie commune movement first emerged.  The book's first section, "Another Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers," appeared in its entirety as the cover article of the May, 1970 Atlantic Monthly
The hardcover first edition from Dutton was quickly followed by paperback editions from Bantam, Avon, and Madrona Publishers, keeping the book in print for several decades.  Very recently, Dwight Garner in the New York Times Book Review cited Total Loss Farm as "the best and also the loopiest of the commune books." 
Author Mungo was a founder of this Vermont commune after co-founding the Liberation News Service in Washington, DC in the late 1960's Of his many books, the first two, Famous Long Ago (currently is used as a college textbook in History of the Sixties classes at NYU, Harvard, Georgia State, and other schools)   and Total Loss Farm, have often been described as iconic for their generation.

My Thoughts:

Total Loss Farm: A Year in the Life by Raymond Mungo has an appeal (as far as the reissue of a piece of stream of consciousness writing from 1970) based on capturing a specific time and place and movement rather actually representing a selection of great literature. It is, as mentioned in the forward by Dana Spiotta  "essentially a diary of a very bad year: bad for Mungo and bad for America. The book begins in the fall of 1969..." and is the "first-hand account of a decisive moment when the intense idealism of the anti-war movement scattered. At its best the book achieves a genuine poignancy. The young bruised idealists have a brutal comedown ('a colossal bummer') while Nixon and the establishment rule the land. The desire to change the world gets downgraded to just trying to change yourself, and even that was difficult."

While there isn't going to be wide audience appeal for Total Loss Farm, any student of human nature and history who also has an interest in studying the 60's and early 70's (and hippies) would likely appreciate reading Mungo's observations and reflections from a sociological/historical perspective. It has, in truth, very little in totality, to do with a farm or farming. There is much talk of hitchhiking and traveling and some experiences with living on a commune. What is does do is expose those who are interested in the ideological roots behind many current movements and causes you see continuing on today.

"But I woke up in the spring of 1968 and said, “This is not what I had in mind,” because the movement had become my enemy; the movement was not flowers and doves and spontaneity, but another vicious system, the seed of a heartless bureaucracy, a minority Party vying for power rather than peace. It was then that we put away the schedule for the revolution, gathered together our dear ones and all our resources, and set off to Vermont in search of the New Age."

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Pharos Editions for review purposes

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