by Richard Kluger ‧ RELEASE DATE: June 11, 1982
Crippled by a hero who's too goody-goody to be true (or interesting), this undramatic, episodic fictional examination of political activism in the Thirties soon becomes wearisomely predictable and didactic as it trudges interminably (696 pp.) through some well-textured period settings. Kluger's quasi-noble Seeker is Toby Ronan, Harvard '34, a non-preppy, middle-class undergraduate whose campus politics come down somewhere between those of chum Rupe (a pacifist, Roosevelt Democrat) and Radcliffe girlfriend Cheska (a rich, Jewish leftist). They join together to form a Harvard chapter of the National Students League; there are peace rallies, anti-ROTC demonstrations, pro-union actions--sometimes leading to arrest or injury. (""Why had all the pointless violence been necessary and all those innocents hurt?"") There are Toby's first sexual delights, debates re liberalism vs. collectivism, extraneous subplots involving faculty-tenure woes. And after a year of grad school, while Rupe veers to the right (law school) and Cheska bows to family pressure, Toby goes on to his next disillusionment: a 250-page New Deal stint as an ""educational advisor"" at a Civil Conservation Corps camp in the Berkshires--where a maniacally militaristic captain opposes all of Toby's attempts to bring real education and compassion to the pathetic boys at the camp. Meanwhile, Toby acquires another couple of contrasting girlfriends, continues his middle-of-the-road grappling with the Left, and gets one more taste of the foul ruthlessness (violence, blackmail) of die-hard radicals. Then: on to Manhattan for the novel's last third--as Toby now acquires three contrasting girlfriends (madcap high-lifer Eden, idealistic radical Nina, reluctantly adulterous landlady Sylvia), works at the Herald Tribune, sees Waiting for Lefty, nobly opposes anti-Semitism, gets involved with the newspapermen's union, attends a CP meeting, appears prominently in a May Day parade, gets disillusioned again. . . and ends up as an enlightened plant manager and would-be writer, husband of Eden. The point? That the ends don't justify the means, that ""socialist warlords aren't the moral superior of any others""--a theme which has been dramatized elsewhere, often, and without Kluger's longwinded heavyhandedness. Still, though Toby is a totally unengaging hero (even Kluger sometimes seems bored by him), there's rich, if indiscriminate, 1930s detail here--with the best ironic touches in the CCC section. And those with a strong interest in the issues and the period may find some non-fiction values in this hardworking, intelligent, but ultimately lifeless fiction.
Pub Date: June 11, 1982
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1982
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