The Anarcho-Geek Review is a new project that reviews pop culture media from an anarchist perspective as well as media created by or representing anarchists.
The Oregon Experiment
by Keith Scribner
Review by Margaret Killjoy
Recommended? Sure, why not.
I’m going to cut this review into two parts. The first part, the shorter part, is just my “why you might like to read this book, why you might not.” The second part is a longer analysis of the ways in which mainstream sympathetic fiction is portraying anarchists.
So, The Oregon Experiment, by Keith Scribner. Scanlon and Naomi are a middle class couple that moves to small town Oregon, and soon their American dream crashes into the rocks of anarchists, secessionist hippies, and the repression thereof. Scanlon is an academic who studies radical social movements, Naomi is a depressed “nose” who was forced to retire from the perfume business when her mental health destroyed her ability to smell. Scanlon gets mixed up with Sequoia, a sexy hippie mama who wants to peacefully secede from the US, while Naomi spends too much time a Clay, a depressed, angsty anarchist who hates everything. Hijinks ensue.
It’s a short, entertaining novel with interesting enough characters. I read it, I enjoyed reading it, and it left me awake thinking after I’d put the book down for the night. While the plot focuses on the gulf between academia and radical action, the themes of the book are much more about parenting and relationships, which I appreciated quite a bit. I appreciated the often-realistic and incredibly flawed characters, though the intensity of male desire directed at mothers—on the basis of them being mothers—is kind of intense. Overall, the book made me nostalgic for early-aughts Oregon.
But frankly, I read the book because I care about the ways that anarchists are represented, and I was curious to see how we came across. I probably wouldn’t have given up on the book without that motivation behind my reading, but I probably wouldn’t have bothered to pick it up in the first place either.
I admit I took a weird sort of glee in studying the book. There I was, an anarchist author who researches the ways in which literature represents us, studying a book about an academic whose field of research is radical social movements. And of course, the book itself was written by an academic who researched radical social movements (perhaps getting tangentially involved just as our Scanlon did? I can only guess.).
So how did he represent us? Hereafter in this review I discuss spoilers.