The Revolution of Every Day by Cari Luna. Publisher: Tin House Books (October 2013). Literary Fiction. Paperback. 392 pages. ISBN 9781935639640.
“She knows people have their own lives, their own things to do. It’s a squat, not a commune. But still, some Wednesdays, it seems they’re all down there together, everyone from Thirteen House and everyone from Cat House, squatter from Maus Haus and Utopia, kids from the park and a steady stream of the homeless. In summer they all spill out onto the sidewalk like a party. Those nights are the best. Those nights she could believe lentils and rice are the best damn thing she ever ate.”
This novel takes place in New York on the Lower East Side in the mid-90s when there’s a movement to take abandoned buildings back from the city. I’m not sure about the logistics and politics but some committed people get together to make the buildings living spaces, to make them communities. They make them safe and livable with electricity, running water and communal spaces. They rotate watch shifts or go dumpster diving and distribute food. Some become leaders. Some cling to relationships. Some find comfort in this strange lifestyle as if it’s the only lifestyle they’ve ever know. Others find that after so many years this is all they’ve got and they’re not going to quickly abandon it.
It’s about low-income housing, low-income living, survival, activism and community. This is about the American Dream becoming increasingly harder to reach. This is about living in a major city being nearly impossible anymore without drastic measures. Everything’s changed. There’s no longer rent control. People get pushed farther and farther away from where they truly want to live.
Intense. Enlightening. Spirited. Author Cari Luna focuses on several people in particular from varied backgrounds and how they came to live at a house they dub Thirteen House. She skillfully places the reader inside the house. Vivid depictions capture New York’s vital essence. A captivating array of characters will draw you in from page one.
Five squatters realize their own internal turmoil and disagreements might weaken foundations faster than city planners, officials and attorneys can evict them. Amelia entered the house as a teen runaway and drug user. While Gerrit believes they’re a couple, she’s having sex with his best friend Steve and is pregnant with Steve’s child. Amelia seems to be growing up and becoming independent and liking it. She’s finally making her own decisions. When she’d arrived at the house, drug-addled she relied on her sexuality and youth. Now she wants more. Gerrit isn’t all that great. He’s rather a pushover for everyone.
Although Steve’s been married for over a decade he constantly cheats on Anne and they don’t have an open relationship. Anne, Steve’s wife, questions both her commitment to Steve and the squatter lifestyle. Steve and Gerrit work well together when focused on the building’s needs and in leading people to fight gentrification taking over their neighborhood. They both have varied experiences as community organizers and protestors. Cat, a former downtown legend of the club/music scene and leader in the squatter movement, might be giving in to a former drug habit. Cat surprised me the most. I didn’t expect her to use again but became so tired with everyone expecting so much from her when she wanted quiet. Seemed the stagnation finally got to Cat.
“Forty-one years old and worried about being late to a job selling onions. This isn’t’ what she’d expected from her life. Though, truth be told, her expectations ran out at thirty and she’s been winging it since then.”
Communal living interests me. I like my privacy and alone time but also prefer not to live completely alone. I’ve often wished I could live in a boarding house but I don’t believe those exist anymore. I doubt I’d survive on a commune because I don’t favor manual labor unless it’s taking care of horses. I don’t like yard work or gardening so I’d be pretty useless on a commune. Maybe I could do the cooking as I’m a pretty good vegan cook. However I could never be a squatter. If I’m living somewhere on principle to be in the city that I want to be in I want to be there and experiencing everything I can.
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Tin House Books.