Title: Joyous Lies
Author: Margaret Ann Spence
Genre: Women’s Fiction
In Joyous Lies, a community of hippies struggle to face the consequences of dodging the draft during the Vietnam War and spending their years embracing free love and free living. Now, decades later, the commune’s efforts to adjust and adapt to the changing times are wearing them down. The commune isn’t what it once was, and its members, and everyone else tied to it, must come to terms with how their lives compare to their original mission.
PhD student Maelle Woolley spent nearly her entire childhood on her grandmother’s farm, a commune called Joyous Woods. Now, Joyous Woods is threatened with the possibility of being torn down and bought out, and Maelle knows she must save it. When the commune members, The Circle, are approached by a filmmaker to do a piece on hippies living in the modern world, it becomes apparent to everyone how far they have come from their first days on the farm.
When Maelle and her boyfriend uncover a shocking revelation about their parents’ deaths, the commune’s integrity is placed under further scrutiny. As Maelle digs deeper for answers, everyone’s true colors begin to show. At this point in the novel, readers start to get a fuller picture of the commune’s complicated history. With Maelle’s investigation comes a radical change in the book’s direction. The novel’s tone shifts to a darker, more serious one, and tensions continue to build, almost taking on a whodunit mystery format. This shift in tone adds a new layer of depth for the book and will intrigue readers even more.
There are multiple scenes where the characters have conversations about the same issue. Although there is realism to this, because no issue is resolved overnight, as a reader it can be a bit repetitive. Even when new characters are brought into the conversation or new information is revealed, the conversations aren’t different enough to keep the reader on their toes and this creates some stagnation in the middle of the book.
The more Maelle digs into Joyous Woods’s past, the more she realizes how twisted the commune’s history is. The mystery portion of the book unfolds naturally, and what is revealed is emotional and heartbreaking. Though the Circle is introduced heavily in the beginning of the book, they aren’t present during the most dramatic, climactic parts of the book. Because their actions are the ones being called into question, incorporating the Circle more throughout would have allowed every revelation to have more impact and would have tied the book together overall.
One of the most important parts of the book is its setting. The book centers around the farm, full of lush nature, crops, and animals. The descriptions of nature are vivid, from the wooded trees that surround the farm to the house’s decaying handmade structure. Nature is its own character in the book and is used throughout to effortlessly thread the characters and the storyline together.
What’s done in the dark will come to light, and in Joyous Lies, the commune’s secrets are no exception to this rule. Readers of all ages will connect to the characters’ struggles as they contemplate how much and how little their lives have changed. With intriguing mystery, rich history, and complex characters, Joyous Lies tells a story of hardships, growth, and facing the truth.
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