A Year in the Company of Freaks
This story takes place in the 1970’s, a time when freedom of self-expression was tolerated by many, in a town that was not quite ready to accept such recklessness. At the start of the story, Sid, the main character, presents himself as a lost young man who seems not to accept the severity of the crime he committed, perceiving that planting marijuana in a field to reap the profits and sail away with his love is just something that probably deserves only a mild sentence. Fortunately for Sid, the police chief, a long time family friend, felt that his penance should be becoming the landlord of his deceased parents’ abandoned farmhouse and residing there with four boarders for his year-long sentence. Otis thinks this opportunity will redeem Sid of his sins and set forth a path for him to becoming an acceptable member of his community.
Although Sid believes acquiring tenants for a relatively cheap room and board and possibly getting tenants that he despised is a much better fate than being in jail, he is terrified at the thought of having to bond with anyone, much less the set of peculiar boarders that Otis dropped off at his doorstep. Even more troublesome for Sid was having to live in his childhood home, where the memories of his parents left a dent in his heart and where the cold detachment he felt for the farmhouse confronted him like a sinister emptiness. Nevertheless, Sid is determined not to disappoint Otis and Pearlie, who had adored his parents and were probably the only people left in Trinity County, California who had any faith in him. Sid struggles with all of the temptations of drugs, alcohol, revenge, and other unnamed sins.
As the story goes along, he tries to make some effort to bond with his roommates and make things run smoothly for all of the eccentric boarders. He deals with Liz’s awkwardness and aloofness, survives Woolf, the Vietnam veteran and his tendencies to take a trip back to Vietnam in the terrors of the battlefield, admires Ketch, a young and carefree boarder who was willing to do anything to win his young daughter back, and bonds with a very special devoted Christian boarder, Mika, who Sid connects with eventually despite the unlikelihood of him fitting into her purified world. Ultimately, Sid feels he is denied every real freedom to include hanging in the “Grotto” with his roommates where they forget their worries, party, and rejoice in using all of the illegal drugs they can get their hands on. Kate, his lost love, revisits his heart, and it is all he can do to stay out of the messy situation her life has now become. Sid does everything to stay out of trouble, but things still managed to get catastrophic in the end. He is still able to develop his relationship with the boarders and ignite a very special relationship with Mika as well as change his image in Trinity County.
InYear in the Company of Freaks, Teresa Neumann develops her characters specifically for the reader to see how the main character’s transformation will be influenced by even the boarders who were not very close to him. She demonstrates how much she values relationships in her writing, something I feel is a precious skill. The plot was driven by these contrasting personalities and reveals how each character thrives based on the friction that was created between the coupling of certain boarders or the interaction of the entire group of individuals. I held my breath all the way through to the final few pages waiting for Sid to immerse himself in some mischief that will be ensure his demise. This coming of age story about a young man’s struggle to accept the confines of authority and his transformation into an almost phenomenal law abiding citizen will draw the reader right in. They will appreciate the story’s unpredictability and the intensity of each of the characters’ personalities as these characters attempt to define themselves and unknowingly recreate the new Sid Jackson.
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