Utterly fantastic and completely believable, This is how I would describe Beverly Gologorsky’s most recent novel, Can You See the Wind. Set in the late 1960s and early 1970s,it is the tale of a family caught up in the politics, culture and the battles these provoked in that period. It is a political novel that relies on human relationships and the tangled emotions therein to make its point. Like any good fiction, the characters are complex and more than mere puppets; the complexity of the human heart is matched by the thoughtfulness of their politics and the nature of their loves. Likewise, their inter-familial relationships are genuine and defy simplicity.
As anyone who was alive and paying attention then knows, the years spanned in this novel were contentious, eventful and exhausting. The world of white America was being challenged overseas and in the streets, classrooms and homes of those across the US who had grown quite comfortable (and even defensive) in its acceptance of that world. The constantly unfolding and occasionally violent attempts to undo that complacency were often met with even greater violence by those whose job it was to maintain it. In other words, police brutality was often the order of the day. Nowhere was this violence more real than in the jungles of Vietnam where conscripts joined enlistees in a devastating and immoral war on the people and the land of that nation. The violence and destruction wrought in that country’s jungles and fields in the name of the American Way, was both revealing in its hypocrisy and its murderous nature. The men sent to create that mayhem in the name of democracy brought its satanic nature back home with them, changing the politics and the consciousness of millions who knew them or feared a future where they might have to join them. Meanwhile, the violence of white supremacy added its own element of evil.
Gologorsky’s novel is a beautiful piece of writing. The narrative flows, weaving the actions, relationships, thoughts and intimacies of its characters into a seamless page turner of a tale. Two sisters–Josie and Celia–are its primary protagonists. The former is an adolescent who leaves her working class home in her senior year to move into Manhattan; specifically the Lower East Side. Her hope is to join in the political and cultural revolution taking place there and elsewhere around the nation. Celia is married to a once successful jazz musician whose career is faltering and being replaced with a growing fondness for narcotics. Her sons are teens uncertain of their direction. The sisters’ brother Richie is on his way to Vietnam and their other brother is a New York City cop.
From the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. to the massacre at Attica State Prison, the story in these pages is wracked with violence and death. It is also immersed in politics: protests against Nixon and his war, a feminist occupation of a television station, and antiwar protest upon antiwar protest. All of it ending in the murderous assault on Attica State prison ordered by Governor Nelson Rockefeller in September 1971. The sisters see their brother Richie get physically wounded in Vietnam and fear the psychological wounds they cannot see. Meanwhile, one of Celia’s sons joins an underground cell involved in an attack on a military recruitment center.
Through it all, there is love. Romantic love, marital love and a familial love that some readers may find unbelievable, but for those of us who know otherwise, is reminiscent of their own families. There are other forms of love as well; the love of children for their self-destructive father, interracial love in a time when that was a dangerous endeavor, a love of one’s Independence and the hesitant and careful love of a widow. The complexities of these loves are explored and considered. The natural unfolding of sexual intimacy and the fear of commitment, especially in a time when the world outside demands its own kind of commitment.