Nutshell: surly New York leftists re-enact simulacrum of bourgeois family drama.
The presentation annoyed me immediately because it focuses on the koestlerian details of picayune totalitarianism--how one fr’instance “could get exiled from the cause for blowing your nose or blinking at suspicious intervals” (3), a primary cliché of the anti-communist genre. (Later, the offending group will, again, be found “immolating themselves in corrupt Moscow directives” (98).)
That type of defect aside, text presents perspective of three generations of socialists, generally sympathetic--but the perspectives are cast backward from the vantage of the world after the end of the cold war: even during the height of mccarthyism, say, in matriarch’s “lava of disappointment the ideals of American Communism had gone to die their slow death eternally; Rose would never die precisely because she needed to live forever, a flesh monument, commemorating Socialism’s failure as an intimate wound” (41). This is a rhetorical oddity, to say the least; it’s one thing to think of the destruction of a local US movement (in those years, the CP was jailed and blacklisted, of course), but quite another to contemplate the dissolution of socialism globally. The charitable reading would be that the character is uncommonly prescient and intellectually honest, which makes her continued adherence the stuff of tragedy.
Nice criticism of matriarch, whose “Marxism quit at Marx” (49), coming from her pseudo-adopted son, the child of her lover. Dude ends up as an academic, and his discourse is laden with references to Deleuze & Guattari, Lacan, Gramsci, Foucault--though his internal perspective is not saturated with the stuff, as some leftists' happen to be (I can attest). This last is a defect of the presentation or of the persons presented: the characters seem to be standard bourgeois with left theoretical window-dressing. Again, being charitable, the suggestion is that they are frivolous socialists, not sufficiently committed to have transformed left critique into bakhtinian svoi
, one’s own discourse, but rather left critique remains chuzhoi
, the discourse of the other, the alien internal. (Or one could just say that author fucked up.)
Other moments that annoyed me for conceptual impropriety: one guy refers to “a thorn in the paw of the plutocrats” (83), “the recognition of capitalism’s fatal flaw, its undertow of squalor” (84), and “true communism was by definition a prophecy of the future” (102). I don't regard this kinda talk as serious or leftwing, and it comes across as rightwing faux populism. A number of serious references to “utopia” also calls into question someone’s knowledge of marxism. Same character, though, like Causubon in [b:Middlemarch|19089|Middlemarch|George Eliot|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1309202283s/19089.jpg|1461747], his “dream is of a footnote” (252), which is kinda awesome--the footnote is marxist numismatics.
Academic draws a nice distinction of marxist epistemology: “Astrology fell into the class of a fake lie, one many of its exponents actively disbelieved,” “not worth the effort of debunking” (65) (cf. Mannheim’s notion of the unmasking analytic; cf. Sloterdijk's enlightened false consciousness). Academic, however, had reserved his critique for “lies that mattered. Ideology, though that word was as yet unknown to him: the veil of sustaining fiction that drove the world, what people needed to believe” (id.). He nonetheless initially possessed “an unwillingness to disillusion” matriarch (68) (again, cf. Mannheim on the significance of disillusionment).
Some subplots are very much oriented to New York, and as I know nothing of New York, failed to signify for me. Other subplots involve baseball, music, and whatnot. Again, this reader can’t relate. Matriarch’s and adopted son’s sections end up as most effective for me. Matriarch’s daughter stuff is also effective, especially set pieces such as when she goes on a television game show and her father’s Stasi file.
Generally tragic, and ambiguously committed. Definitely, though, not an exercise in “look at the silly lefties.”
Recommended for persons who are ambulatory grievances, occupants of a ruined century, and readers in a Ponzi scheme of herpes and divorce.