The Understanding by Jane Barker Wright (Porcupine’s Quill) offers one of the most convincing fictionalizations of seventies hippie culture I’ve ever read. The novel is the story of the bohemian Whitechapel clan; artsy Solly and Isobel and their brood of children. Their difficult daughter Magnolia has become a hugely successful Alanis Morissette-style rock star, but the glare of media scrutiny illuminates a family secret from the past. To learn Magnolia’s strange story, we’re transported to the decade of free love, when Isobel falls for the charismatic, licentious Solly and follows him west to a tiny B.C. island. There they become the nucleus of a communal household, but the flowers and granola cannot last forever and the hippie dream comes to a brutal end. Isobel funnels her creative energy into her large family, and will do almost anything to keep a man whose most striking characteristic is his wandering eye. But she is a strong and likable character and the “understanding” of the title describes a relationship and a past that are more complicated than they seem.