He wrote her poems on scraps of paper. He sang her songs. He held her and his chest was as broad and as deep as the city’s skyline. He held her and his body was the world.
It isn’t like that anymore. Either he’s gone small or Anne has grown too large to be contained; when he holds her now, she sees only what’s beyond him, waiting over his shoulder. He holds her and she feels the wind and the encroaching dark. He is neither the city nor the home that shelters her from it.
(from The Revolution of Every Day)
The Revolution of Every Day is a novel based on a true story, the eviction of squatters from Thirteen House on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1995. Cari Luna uses this politically charged event as a backdrop for a much bigger story about the gentrification of New York City and the struggles among the squatters trying to build a community comprised of people from different backgrounds and with different motivations. Luna gives a face to the homesteading movement of the 1970s and 1980s by focusing on five residents of Thirteen House and its neighbor, Cat House.
Gerrit helped open Thirteen House in the early 1980s with the charismatic Steve and his wife, Anne. Back in Amsterdam, he helped barricade a squat from the authorities and was a victim of police brutality, so he is less optimistic about Thirteen House’s legal case against the city. But like the rest of its residents, Gerrit has helped transform the building from a rundown symbol of neighborhood blight into a place they can call home, and they are not going to give up without a fight. He especially wants to hang onto this home now that he plans to be a father.
Amelia, the teenage runaway Gerrit took in seven years ago, is pregnant with Steve’s child and torn between her sense of duty to Gerrit and her need to stop pretending they are a couple. She doesn’t know what to do about the baby or her feelings for Steve, whose love for his wife — despite his infidelity — is unwavering. Meanwhile, Anne laments her inability to have children and is increasingly drawn away from the squat to her sister’s more stable home life, and Cat, the reluctant leader of Cat House, seems strong and sure on the outside but could be just a half-step away from succumbing to her old addictions.
Luna has perfectly crafted a complex set of characters (including the squats and the city themselves) who are troubled, even repulsive or downright sad, yet evoke the reader’s sympathy. She shows how hard the squatters have worked to put down roots and claim their rights to a decent place to live in a city that grows more unaffordable every day, and how some thought the legal battle for adverse possession — which would allow the squatters to claim ownership by proving that they lived in the building continuously for 10 years and made improvements — would constitute both a victory and a defeat, given that they would become part of the system they fought against by illegally taking up residence in the building in the first place.
The Revolution of Every Day is gritty and raw, yet carefully composed and beautifully written. Luna doesn’t portray squatting as right or wrong, but she gets readers thinking about why people would take such a risk for a chance to create a home of their own in an exciting and vibrant city. Her love for the city of her birth shines through as she describes the promise it once held and a sense of loss as money ushers in change. Most importantly, Luna shows how revolutions are grounded in the every day and how struggles within a community and within friendships and romantic relationships affect and even transcend the larger movement.
Luna’s prose is detailed and insightful, and The Revolution of Every Day is a thought-provoking page-turner with unique characters whose strength and passion will not be easily forgotten. This is a book that has stayed with me in the days since I finished it, prompted me to do some research on the historical events that inspired the story, and made me think long and hard about the concept of home, activism, and how quickly a place you thought you knew can become unrecognizable. I’m definitely adding this novel to my Best of 2013 list and Cari Luna to my list of favorite contemporary writers.
Disclosure: I received The Revolution of Every Day from the author/Tin House Books for review.
© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.