Monday, March 26, 2012

Book Review: Dance the Eagle to Sleep by Marge Piercy

There really is something about Marge Piercy and her writing. She literally TALKS to me. I've already talked about how much her novel Gone To Soldiers has affected me in my life (as well as the sheer amount of times I go back to it), but she has written other novels that have the same effect on me. Her prose tends to tear me apart, touches me intensely and then leaves me to think about it over and over again for days afterwards. A lot of it comes from the fact that she is able to to create story lines around (political) ideas that I completely agree with; strong characters that you relate to, love, dislike, want to be; and her powerful writing that always seems to become timeless. The ability to blend beauty and ugliness together in prose is what Piercy is insanely good at, as well as the ability to make you imagine that you are living the exact story that you are in the middle of reading.

Dance the Eagle to Sleep is Marge Piercy's first novel, originally published in 1970 and recently reissued, with a new foreword by Piercy herself. The novel is centered around four students, each from different backgrounds (Shawn the rockstar trying to avoid doing military service, Joanna the runaway, Corey the revolutionary and Billy the scientist). The story starts with the student revolt at Franklin High and continues with the development and country-wide growth of a dissident youth movement named the "Indians". Young people who are tired of being told how to live their lives, what they need to become to be a "proper adult"and what box they need to fit into. People with ideas that defy the norm and who want to live, be free and create a new type of world where there is no war and plastic pre-fab lives and boredom.
Through-out the novel the movement grows inside and outside of the cities; communes are created and the inevitable governmental crackdowns start happening. The Indians become self-sufficient and live as one large family, with natural leaders and different groups inside the family. Discussions are held every day where all members can voice thoughts and opinions and drugs are seen as a way to enlightenment as opposed to addiction, in the same way as hallucinogenics were used in certain Native American tribes. The Indians look for peace in the alternate way of living but prepare for the eventual clashes with the police and the the government. Police brutality is expected, but once the violence of the crackdowns becomes more akin to war, the family divides into those who want to go underground and those who want to fight to the bitter end.

Although an invented world, this novel is never far from the truth, and is based on the student protests in the 60's, and can easily be transplanted into the world of today, with the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement around the world. Hope, change, revolution, repression. A story of despair, of hope, of uprising and of defiance. Full of powerful images and metaphors that leave you imagining the may bes and the could have beens.

Marge Piercy's Website

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