Letters

Letters 09-29-2014

Benishek Doesn’t Understand

Congressman Benishek claims to understand the needs of families, yet he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would cause about 10 million people to lose their health insurance. He must think as long as families can hold fundraisers they don’t need insurance...

(Un)Truth In Advertising

Constant political candidate ads on TV are getting to be too much to bear 45 days before the election...

Rare Tuttle Rebuttal

Finally, I disagree with Stephen Tuttle. His “Cherry Bomb” column in the 8/4/14 issue totally dismayed me. I always love his wit and the slamming of the 1 percent. His use of fact and hyperbole highlights the truth; until “Cherry Bomb.” Oh man, Stephen...

Say No To Fluoride

Do you or your child’s teeth have white, yellow, orange, brown, stains, spots, streaks, cloudy splotches or pitting? If so, you may be among millions of Americans who now have a condition called dental fluorosis...

Questions Of Freedom

The administration’s “Affordable Health Care Act” has ordered religious orders to provide contraception and chemical abortions against the church’s God given beliefs and teachings … an interesting order, considering the First Amendment’s clear prohibitions...

Stop The Insults & Talk

I found it interesting that Ms. Minervini used the Northern Express to push the Safe Harbor agenda for a 90-bed homeless shelter in Traverse City with a tactic that is also being utilized by members of the city commission. Those of us who oppose the project are being labeled as uncompassionate citizens...

Roads and Republicans

Each time you hit a road crater while driving, thank the “nerd” and the Tea Party controlled Republican legislature.

Home · Articles · News · Books · Radicals Revisited
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Radicals Revisited

Nancy Sundstrom - October 2nd, 2003
In recent years, she’s become a Trivial Pursuit question and fodder for the “I Love the ‘70s“ program on VH1, along with making guest appearances on talk shows and films by John Waters, and speaking out on the recent, highly publicized abduction and rescue of Elizabeth Smart.
But long before all that, the kidnapping of heiress Patty Hearst in 1974 and her year-long life on the lam that followed was one of the most shocking and fascinating events of that decade. Hearst has told her own version of events, but now, almost 30 years later, comes a novel entitled “American Woman“ by Susan Choi (“The Foreign Student“) that is the first true attempt to deliver a serious fictional treatment of the ordeal.
For the most part, it works well and does so on a number of levels, with the passage of time providing a perspective for the reader that helps anchor the narrative and its psychological probe of the main characters. Choi also made an interesting and wise choice in making another American woman, not the one modeled after Hearst, the primary focus of the story, which aids in drawing us into the shadowy world of those for whom terrorism, political activism, race relations and class wars are battles to be fought on the front lines of daily life.
If you’re familiar with the Hearst saga, you’ll recognize who the fictional versions of the real-life players are/were, but there’s something to be said for unfamiliarity, as well. The basis of Choi’s tale stays fairly tethered to the facts of Hearst’s “lost year,“ but aims for depth in explaining motivation along with manifesto.
In “American Woman,“ several members of a small revolutionary band survive a deadly confrontation with the police. They are Juan and Pauline (Bill Harris and ex-wife Emily Montague are their actual counterparts), a married couple, and an heiress-cum radical named Pauline, the daughter of a wealthy publisher. The trio are the focus of a massive California manhunt, but with the help of a sympathizer named Rob Frazier, whose motive may be less noble than those of the average well-intentioned revolutionary, they make their way across the country to an off-the-beaten-path part of New York:

“Red Hook is little more than the junction of a couple of roads, with a farm store, a church and graveyard, a diner. And the post office, a small square cement building with RED HOOK NY 12571 spelled out in metal letters across the flat gray façade. He keeps flying through this sparse nexus of structures, first along the south-north road, then, when he finally manages to slow down and make the turn, along the east-west. He has the idea that the rest of the town must lie just farther on, and that the diner and farm store and church and post office are a far-flung outpost, but he keeps ending up twenty-odd miles away in front of a sign welcoming him to a new town, and so he keeps turning back and retracing his route...
At the post office he parks and goes in to take a look at her box. If there were a tiny window in the little metal door he would stoop and peer in, but there isn‘t. At the diner he orders coffee and a jelly donut and tries to figure out where all the people live. A man in overalls asks another man at the counter how to get somewhere. “I‘m from over-river,“ he explains. Back in his car Frazer studies the map. The Hudson lies west of here, about a ten-minute drive on these roads. Might be pretty. Frazer knows he is possessed of the skills to solve such problems as the one that lies before him. He can recognize, for example, that right now he is looking too hard at the wrong thing, and missing the point. He needs to do something else, maybe even give up for the day, find a bar and a motel, and start fresh in the morning. He should have realized that she wouldn‘t live here; she wouldn‘t want to be too near the post office. Yet she wouldn‘t want to travel too far. This is the sort of zero-sum compromise she makes all the time; Frazer knows this about her, having been subjected to the same flawed formulation. Trust Frazer or spurn him? A little of both? He notices, thinking of the man in overalls from over-river, that there aren‘t so many bridges: just four in the 150-mile stretch from the city to Albany. One lies due west of here, but Frazer‘s willing to bet that Jenny wouldn‘t cross the river for her mail. Too much traffic concentration, too confined; there‘s no good exit from a bridge. He puts an X on Red Hook, then estimates a half hour‘s driving distance and draws a circle around Red Hook with that radius. He does this mostly to amuse himself, but also because he believes in the inflexibility, predictability, knowability of people. They never stray far from their familiar realms of being. The most shocking act, closely examined, is just a louder version of some habitual gesture. No one is ever “out of character.“ That idea just makes Frazer laugh.“

The Jenny he is referring to is another fugitive, a young Japanese-American woman with the last name of Shimada, who is based on Wendy Yoshimura. The foursome retreat to a Red Hook farmhouse to hide out, undergo training to further their radical sensibilities, and generally get on each other’s nerves. All the familiar elements are there - the flight across country from justice, a bank robbery that gets national publicity, the “brainwashing“ of Pauline, and a “cause“ that is so half-baked that the quartet was ostracized by their mentors long before the kidnapping of a prominent young socialite gave them more attention than they ever deserved.
Choi’s creation of Jenny gives the book its rudder and she manages to make her so sympathetic that even when the seemingly ludicrous is revealed through her eyes, she brings a credibility to the psychology behind the action. There are supporting characters who contribute to the story, particularly Jenny’s friend and former lover Frazer and Will, another radical imprisoned for bombing government offices, and their appearances are well-timed, relieving some of the tension imposed by the claustrophobia of a life spent hiding.
This was a challenging tale to meld into a fictional novel, and one of its triumphs is that even though we know how the story ends, the mystery continues to unravel, right up through the final pages. It confirms that as much as we know or think we do, only those who lived through it are the actual owners of the truth, and even that, at times, has been as elusive as the radicals themselves once were.

 
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