Readers of Beverly Gologorsky’s new novel, Can you See the Wind?, (Seven Stories; $24.95) might be reminded of Bob Dylan’s Sixties anthem, “Blowing in the Wind.” In the pages of fiction, Gologorsky doesn’t offer answers or solutions to social and political problems, though she captures the winds of change that blew across the decade. Elsewhere she has said, “People, lots of them, can change policy. It takes a village and it takes patience.” Famed novelist Elizabeth Strout, author of Olive Kitteridge, says, “Gologorsky looks straight into the face of class in this country.” That comment appears on the cover of Gologorsky’s new novel, an anthem of sorts. Stout’s comment is true, though it’s not the whole truth. Granted, in her first novel, “The Things We Do to make it Home,” Gologorsky explores the lives of working class women—mothers, sisters, wives and widows. Granted, she is still writing about working class women and also about one working class family in particular that is stretched to the breaking point, but that’s also resilient. Gologorsky’s central character, Josie, is a woman with a sister and a mother, though she also has a brother and a nephew, and for a while a Black lover named Melvin who awakens to the cause of his own people.
In fact, “Can you See the Wind?” is as much about race, ethnicity and gender as it is about class. That’s to be expected in a novel that’s set in the late 1960s and that aims to tell much of the story of that time and place: the war in Vietnam, the protests against that war, the rise of feminist groups and organizations, Black power and the Panthers, abortions, the prison movement and state repression, as well as the counterculture that created coops and that changed the ways men and women dressed, talked and interacted. It’s all here, with crisp dialogue and vivid descriptions.
“Been there done that,” one might say of Gologorsky. In the 1960s, her feet were in the streets. She was also at her desk as an impassioned editor at Viet-Report and Leviathan.
The sections of the book that describe the tender and volatile relationship between Melvin and Josie are among the best sections in the book, though there are other sections that are also powerful, including one that takes place in a courtroom, another behind bars and yet another in a Black church.
Reading “Can You See the Wind?” can and does feel like watching a newsreel that captures in soundbites and images the topics of the day, from riots in the streets and underground cells to Attica and women’s marches on the Pentagon. The novel races along, though now and then it also slows down long enough for the characters to sit side-by-side and talk, watch TV, share food, enjoy sex, think deep thoughts about the past, the present and the future.
Gender and ethnicity aside, class still plays a big part in Gologorsky’s world. Her working class guys become cops and soldiers. They fire their weapons and are shot and wounded.
In one of the novel’s most endearing scenes, a woman employee tells her male boss, Artie, that she’s quitting her job and taking another one where people don’t speak of bosses but rather of the collective. Artie tells her that he has recently separated from his wife, Vi, and suggests that he and his employee eat at a “great steakhouse near Yankee Stadium.” Gologorsky traces the dualities of families; how they can be “a nest of vipers urging members to step into the same minefield again and again and a garden of angels ready to welcome any wayward child.”
Readers who know Gologorsky’s previous novels will probably want to dive into “Can You See the Wind?” For those who don’t know her previous work, it’s a good introduction to her sensibility. Veterans of the Sixties will find their memories of that decade reawakened. Millennials will be both entertained and educated about an era before Facebook and Lyft, when people met face-to-face in real time and spoke from their hearts.