It Takes a Village?

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It Takes a Village?

Fiction that explores communal living experiments

If humanity could restart society from scratch, what would we prioritize, what would we reconsider, and how would we position ourselves to thrive?

The following novels all consider these questions via their portrayals of characters whose answers have at their cores a belief in the value of living communally -- and who have created or are taking part in living situations that reflect this belief.

Ranging from self-identified communes to experimental projects with varying degrees of scientific rigor, the living circumstances in these novels provide the opportunity to explore the results of living together in a collective way -- on both the individuals and the group as a whole.

Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson
Pregnant and with limited support, recent high school graduate Isabel “Izzy” Poole agrees to participate in The Infinite Family Project, a study organized by Dr. Preston Grind in which ten babies and their parents will live together for ten years, during which the parents will raise the children communally. When entanglements among the adults start to derail the experiment, though, Izzy and Preston must cope with its potential dissolution -- and how that failure would recall their own families and pasts.

The Terranauts by T.C. Boyle
In 1994 Arizona, futurist Jeremiah Reed funds a project designed to examine how humanity could survive beyond Earth. His Ecosphere 2 (E2) is set to house eight “terranauts” for two years, including committed animal manager Dawn Chapman and libidinous communications officer Ramsay Roothorp -- though not Linda Ryu, an applicant bitter over being selected to work outside E2. As the project develops, the shifting relationships among these three, along with additional pressures, begin to threaten the entire experiment. 

Arcadia by Lauren Groff
Born early in the development of the Arcadia commune in 1960s upstate New York, Ridley Sorrel Stone -- called Bit -- is a quiet and observant child, absorbing life through the commune’s lens. As he grows up, though, shifting circumstances within and outside Arcadia push him into the outside world, where he must decide how much of his upbringing to hold onto -- and reckon with the aspects of it that persist in him independent of his choices.  

Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith
In 1993, young Lucie Bowen survived an earthquake that caused the death of her father and the ruination of Marrow Island off the coast of Washington state. Now, twenty years later, Lucie is contacted by childhood friend Katie, who explains that she is part of a small colony that has returned Marrow Island to habitability and who invites Lucie to come see for herself. Over the course her time there, though, Lucie discovers a dark side to the colony’s methods.

Drop City by T.C. Boyle
Opening up his Sonoma County ranch to those who share his hippie values, Norm Sender creates a commune called Drop City that proves attractive to individuals including young East Coast transplants Star and Ronnie. Less enamored, though, are the local authorities, leading Norm to re-locate the group to his property in remote Boynton, Alaksa, where they become entangled with local trapper Cecil “Sess” Harder, his new wife Pamela, and his rival Joe Bosky.