Mud City Press


Dan Armstrong's


(Mud City Press, July 2019, 455 pages, $18.99)

Reviewed by Malloy M. O'Connor

Dan Armstrong's novel, Blake College, is listed as "Occult Fiction" or "Visionary Fiction." For this reviewer, it was more like a trip down memory lane. Set in Eugene, Oregon in the 1970s, Blake College perfectly captures the quirky counterculture of that era.

A Novel

As the story opens, the college town of Eugene has become a destination for a generation searching for "something more" whether it is esoteric knowledge, back-to-land nostalgia, free love or psychotropic visions. You can find all that and a whole lot more at Blake College, a "co-op" school founded by two women appropriately named Rain and Adrienne. The curriculum offers yoga, organic gardening, meditation and communal living experiences as well as access to a plethora of drugs. The name of the school itself–honoring the 18th century visionary poet William Blake–hints at the mind-bending experience to come. This rather idyllic hippie dream is pulled back to reality when one of the Blake students is accused of bombing two buildings at the U of O campus, including the ROTC building. The FBI and the local police converge on the counterculture community, but the Blake family of students and friends launch their own investigation and begin to find some interesting possibilities connected to the fight between supporters of the U of O track team and a local businessman. The death of one of the Blake faculty members further complicates the plot–especially when her far-out funeral taps into unexpected psychic forces that move the story into unchartered territory. Hold onto your love beads. Things are about to get even stranger. As a "graduate" of the sixties’ counterculture, I really enjoyed this book. It brought back a torrent of memories–the people, the places, the experiences. I also loved the slow evolution of the characters in the story and the contrast between the student "explorers" and the conventional "townies." What a wonderful crew of personalities and their evolution as they open up new paths to follow is great fun. The story has that "ring of authenticity" that makes even the most bizarre phenomena seem possible. Even though this is a long book (just over 450 pages), the twists and turns of the plot keep the story moving and the reader engaged. The underlying environmental messages are present without being preachy and the look at the "alternative lifestyle" is, even after fifty years, still compelling.