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THE COMMUNE by Erica Abeel Kirkus Star


by Erica Abeel

Pub Date: July 4th, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-954351-79-0
Publisher: Adelaide Books

This sharp, shapely roman à clef visits a group of feminists, writers, and intellectual hangers-on living as summer housemates on Long Island's East End while they plan what will become the historic Women's Strike for Equality of Aug. 26, 1970.

Abeel affectionately ribs the political maneuverings of the feminists and the self-serving machinations of the writers while more harshly critiquing the proto-Trumpian businessmen, but her novel is at heart a romantic satire marked by apt literary quotations, Dickensian character names, and multiple references to Jane Austen. Running the group house is Gilda Gladstone, the reigning force of the women’s movement (who resembles Betty Friedan). Gilda is middle-aged and homely but charismatic and sexually driven, politically committed to women’s rights but wary of radical feminists, especially lesbians. She’s also deeply jealous of Monica Fairley (a stand-in for Gloria Steinem), who never appears but haunts the novel as Gilda’s glamorous competitor for feminist leadership. Around Gilda swirl her followers, including Leora, a recently divorced mother and struggling writer who's looking for a husband, preferably rich. Leora takes trenchant, metafictional notes for a future novel while deciding between a crude but rich former boyfriend, “the Polish Gatsby,” and a talented but poor journalist who works at Clive Monomark's Gotham (aka New York magazine under Clay Felker). Most of the other characters are composites. The guessing game becomes addictive: Is beautiful photographer Edwina Scahill, who's bisexual and yearning for children, Sally Mann or Annie Leibowitz? Radical highbrow JoBeth Mankiller isn’t quite Susan Sontag. “Well connected dilettante” author Peter Grosvenor must be George Plimpton; rich, organ-playing Sebastian Nye, who co-publishes The National Bugle with William Buckley, sounds like harpsichordist Buckley himself. More important, almost all of Abeel’s characters show complexity—foolish yet brilliant, silly yet sad, insecure yet capable. As they fall in and out of affairs, commit minor treacheries, admit insecurities, and discover love, the reader starts caring deeply.

A joyous literary romp with hidden depth.