An awkward and agenda-heavy novel, the second this season on the subject of the French Revolution (see Tanith Lee, above)....

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"CITY OF DARKNESS, CITY OF LIGHT"

An awkward and agenda-heavy novel, the second this season on the subject of the French Revolution (see Tanith Lee, above). In an author's note, Piercy (The Longings of Women, 1994, etc.), a self-described woman of the left and feminist, declares that she wanted to write about the Revolution and a ""society in crisis""--18th-century France--that might ""illuminate our own situation."" While the rich in the US may be getting richer and the poor more desperate, however, the US still isn't Royalist France, so the comparisons are less than persuasive. Still, the stories Piercy's six characters--three of them women--tell are vivid, if marred by clich‚s and colloquialisms (""They're guys just like in the neighborhood""). The narrators, all based on prominent historical figures, include ""Max"" Robespierre, the ascetic absolutist who created the Reign of Terror; Georges Danton, the ebullient orator; Nicholas Condorcet, an intellectual inspired by the example of the American Revolution; Claire Lacombe, an actress and activist; Pauline L‚on, a chocolate-maker who organized the women; and Manon Roland, whose famous last words were, ""Ah, liberty, what crimes are committed in your name."" Alternate chapters describe the characters' early lives and their revolutionary roles. Max, who heard his mother die in childbirth, resolved never to have children; Claire ran away from home to escape becoming a laundress like her own mother; Pauline, who grew up poor, married an affluent army officer; Nicholas was an aristocrat who broke with his class; Manon used her intellectual talents to further her husband's career; and Georges wanted to retire to his native province and raise a family. All six witness or participate in events like the storming of the Bastille. But as the ""Revolution begins to eat its children,"" they are caught up in the violence. Only Claire and Pauline survive in a France that is altered, somewhat improved, but still flawed. Dickens did it better.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0449912752

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Fawcett/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1996