Thursday, August 3, 2017
Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem
They call her the Red Queen. Her name is Rose Zimmer and she rules all she surveys in 1930's Queens, New York. Rose is a dedicated Communist and almost no one lives up to her ideals. Fanatically zealous, she is determined to make changes in the way the country is run and the fact that she antagonizes all those she meets doesn't seem to sink in. Rose has one child, Miriam, before her husband flees her to Germany to live out his life.
Miriam grows up and flees Rose as quickly as she can, escaping to Greenwich Village and the bohemian lifestyle she finds there. These two women are magnets to various men. There is Douglas, Rose's married cop who is also black, not that she cares about either his race or marriage. Lenny is a coin and stamp savant who is always around and idolizes Miriam, but she marries a folk singer from Ireland. Cicero is Douglas' son, raised in a house where he always knew his father loved another woman. Sergius is Miriam's son, raised by strangers in a boarding school after his parents disappear.
The novel ranges from the 1930's to the present. Along the way, various social movements come and go. There is the fierce raging of Communism in Rose's life. Lenny is obsessed with getting a major league ballpark in the city. Miriam and her husband are involved in the ideals of the hippie movement along with its antiwar focus. They go to South America where the Sandinisitas are rebels and idealized. Finally, the cycle swings and Sergius is involved in the Occupy movement.
Lethem explores the ideals of those focused on making a change in the lives around them and more importantly, how love works in lives. Rose is unable to articulate her love and pushes people away. Miriam is sure she knows exactly how to handle life and men which leads to her demise. Lenny and Cicero are caught in Rose's web, unable to break away from her magnetism even as she appalls them. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.