Marge Piercy, Dance The Eagle To Sleep (1970, , 224 pp)

Piercy is better known for her later novels Woman On The Edge Of Time and Vida but this, her second novel, is certainly worth a read if for no other reason than to check out her early explorations of a number of themes to which she would later return.

Combining a deep cynicism concerning shallow pop culture rebellion with a fairly naive call to arms for the youth of the future Dance The Eagle To Sleep's plot serves more as a guide to the myths of the late 60s radical scene than as a true alternate future. Indeed the novel seems set in the very near future (well near to 1970 anyway) as its four teenage protagonists find themselves trapped in a Nixon style emotional wasteland in which alternative social service has drained the anti-draft movement and savage repression has levelled the ghettos. Despite the futuristic setting the recreational and other pursuits of its disaffected youth stick fairly close to the 60s formula as sex, drugs and rock n roll (hippy style) still rule the roost.

At times the book feels more like a first draft than a finished product and the central protagonists are in many ways just sketchy archetypes, but regardless of this Piercy manages to capture the era's alienation and frustration quite vividly. Since she wasn't so far removed from the characters in her real life role as a Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) organiser she also tells the tale with a sense of wafer thin world weariness that is belied by her enthusiasm for the "coming revolution" and her hatred of the State.

The first character we meet sets the tone for the rest of the novel in that the frustrated lead singer for the pop group The Coming Thing (whose lyrics are unintentionally hilarious) becomes fed up with his wealthy lifestyle and banal career. After going AWOL and receiving a rude awakening at the hands of the Military Police he decides to drop out and only play free festivals for the "kids". In the aftermath of one of his concerts being trashed by the police he hooks up with the other teen protagonists (a Native American dope dealer, a confused science wiz and a military brat) joining their revolutionary commune in New York's Lower East Side. Here the team conspire to recruit for the revolution whilst partaking in peyote style consciousness raising and enjoying a raunchy update on the traditional Native American Ghost Dance. After relocating to a "back to the land" style commune (located in of all places New Jersey) the rebellion's influence grows attracting a vengeful response from the authorities.

Whilst the book has a definite period piece feel to it Piercy's enthusiasm nevertheless remains infectious and as a rare example of female writing on the subject and era it is well worth hunting down.


" ‘Did you ever kill someone?’
‘Not personally. Bet we have. It’s the same thing. We have to start over. We have to start while there are still human people left. Kids have a chance. We aren’t mortgaged yet. We have to get all the kids out who are still alive and keep them alive. People who still have eyes will pick up on the way we live. The others can go on trying to make their crazy machines work on each other. But the young won’t go into their system to be ground into hamburger any more, and gradually it will slow down and come to a halt. And people will walk away and learn to live again.’
He put his hand on Corey’s shoulder, smooth and bony and hot to the touch. He could feel the pulse. ‘I don’t believe those who hold the riches of the world, including our bodies, are going to let go. But I don’t have any better ideas.’ He believed in nothing beyond the moment, but the moment was good. Corey wanted more from him, searching with his black stare. Shawn vaguely pressed on and picked up the hammer.
In August Corey went out to Chicago and thirty more Indians followed him back to the farm. He was already talking about starting one out on the West Coast. While he was gone, the dark woman Dolores who played the drums gave birth to their first baby, who was named in council Leaf." (pp91-92)

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