The Optimistic Decade

By Heather Abel

You say you want a revolution? This energetic and entertaining novel about a utopian summer camp and its charismatic leader asks smart questions about good intentions gone terribly wrong.

Framed by the oil shale bust and the real estate boom, by protests against Reagan and against the Gulf War, The Optimistic Decade takes us into the lives of five unforgettable characters, and is a sweeping novel about idealism, love, class, and a piece of land that changes everyone who lives on it.

There is Caleb Silver, the beloved founder of the back-to-the-land camp Llamalo, who is determined to teach others to live simply. There are the ranchers, Don and son Donnie, who gave up their land to Caleb, having run out of options after Exxon came and went and left them bankrupt. There is Rebecca Silver, determined to become an activist like her father and undone by the spell of Llamalo and new love; and there is David, a teenager who has turned Llamalo into his personal religion. But situated on a plateau in the heart of the Rockies, Llamalo proves that it might outlast anyone’s heady plans for it, from the earliest Native American settlers to the latest lovers of the land.

Like Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, Heather Abel’s novel is a brilliant exploration of the bloom and fade of idealism and how it forever changes one’s life. Or so we think.

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Heather Abel

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Review quotes
“Politically and psychologically acute . . . A strong sense of time and place anchors the story, and Abel’s well-crafted plot brings all the strands of the story together into a suspenseful yet believable conclusion. Without landing heavily on any political side, and without abandoning hope, Abel’s novel lightly but firmly raises questions about how class and cultural conflicts play out in the rural West.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

"This witty and psychologically astute debut novel could not be more timely.”
—Peter Heller, author of Celine and The Dog Stars

“A coming-of-age story set in the age of Reagan and Bush, Heather Abel’s wonderful novel asks a question that’s more relevant now than ever: Amid the maddening news of the world, how do you go about living an authentic life? Perceptive, funny, and utterly original, The Optimistic Decade is a book for anyone who’s navigated the twin crises of idealism and youth.”
—Nathan Hill, author of The Nix

“Big-hearted, wise, and beautifully written, this sharply observant exploration of idealism gone awry engages at every level.”
—Andrea Barrett, author of The Voyage of the Narwhal and Archangel

“What does it mean to measure our goodness against wide-open spaces? In Heather Abel’s sharp, beautiful debut, American idealism and the obsession with land meet up on a single plateau in the Rockies, leading to a summer of stunning consequences. Long after The Optimistic Decade has ended, readers will linger with these pages, haunted by Abel's ability to bring both the spectacular and the intimate to life.”
—Mira Jacob, author of The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing

“Heather Abel writes with beguiling humor about the possibilities of self transformation and the limits of idealism. I love the warmth with which she invokes her characters, young and middle-aged, and the wit with which she invokes their longing to be their best selves. The Optimistic Decade is a gripping and very timely debut.”
—Margot Livesey, author of Mercury

“A playful look at Jewish coming-of-age and coming-to-terms in the American West.”
Kirkus Reviews

“A generous, thoughtful view of youthful passion and idealism seen through the lens of age, as its characters struggle with questions of personal authenticity.”
Library Journal
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Publication date
May 01, 2018