I almost gave up on this book for two reasons. (1) There really isn’t a lot of ebb and flow to the emotion. I mean, there is some scandal but for the most part you’re seeing this experiment through the eyes of Izzy and Dr. Grind and it’s a play by play description. And (2) from about halfway through I was terrified that it was going to end with some kind of complex orgy/burned down complex/cult massacre and my heart just wasn’t prepared for that. You’ll feel that way too. The writing is so subdued and then once in awhile something bad peeks out and you’re like “oh crap, what’s bubbling under the surface here?”
Ten families are chosen for an experiment about family. All have babies about to be born, and are provided with individual houses while their children are raised by everyone. All care, food, education, and love, even for the parents, is provided by the study, and they are looking to see how the study affects the growth of the children from birth and the study would conclude when the children were ten years old. I want to take the suspense out of it for you so that you can pick up this book and enjoy it cover to cover. It does not end badly. There are mistakes and bad things happen, but this book is not about suspense or tragedy. It’s about how we find family in new and innovative ways in the most dire or seemingly hopeless situations.
This book may not speak to everyone. Some have large families or groups of friends that they feel very connected to and by whom they are supported. This may just read as a weird experiment book with a smiley shiney ending, possibly boring to the untrained, less lonely eye.
It isn’t completely about that either, though. Look around you. Slowly over the past 60 years families have receded into the suburbs, into their own wealth (or lack of it), into their own families. Teachers are derided and demeaned; I have to pretend to have children so parents will take me seriously. Try to discipline a child in public when you see them doing something wrong and see what happens. We don’t live in communities anymore. We live in bubbles in proximity to other bubbles, because we always know best. This is mine mine mine. Don’t touch my stuff. Don’t touch my money. I shouldn’t have to pay for someone else’s healthcare/children/transportation/food you name it. Get off my lawn is cute until it becomes everyone’s philosophy.
Now I’m not saying I want to go back to the good ol’ days here. What I am saying is that this books offers an interesting perspective about community and family that Americans seem to have forgotten. “Get yours and get gone” tends to win the day over “How can we help each other?” Again, not talking full on communism or anything, but I think there is a lot of room for improvement.
I found that the ending was the best part of this book and I am glad I persevered and finished it out. It made me want a friend next door, and if I wanted kids, someone they grew up with for them to know and play with and trust. The skeptic in me says this is a fairy tale, that in today’s societal conditions this is a pipe dream. Even in the book certain parents are simply unwilling to give up control of their growing children even when all possible support and care was offered to help them. It was as if without the struggle, without the sweaty brow and “well we get by,” they weren’t even sure what being a parent was. And doesn’t that speak absolute volumes about the support and care we offer families who are the most in need now. What kinds of cycles do we perpetuate so that parenting is a burden that people shoulder instead of a community duty that we all embrace?
Maybe this book is a fairy tale. But the next time you see a story on the news about a mom being shamed for buying cake with food stamps, the next time your congressman wants to cut funding for WIC because “welfare moms”, when you hear your community screaming for drug testing for welfare recipients – consider what we truly call community anymore when we have no interest in caring for the weakest and most in need among us? When we simply need to get ours and get gone? Those are MY tax dollars. It’s not my fault they made “bad decisions.” Don’t punish me because she couldn’t keep her legs together. That the families in this book had no other choice but to enter this study in order to provide for their families, even if it might do damage they couldn’t even conceive of.
This is our existence, people. I’m just glad I got to read this book and get a little sunshine before I had to throw my consciousness back into the mudpit of the real world. For now pick up Kevin Wilson’s book, he has some important things to say and you may want to think a bit on how we can turn our eyes toward an American community and away from American isolationism. Our children and their children will thank us for it.