DEAD ALIVE by Eva Demski


Email this review


Sixties radicalism is revisited in this third novel (and first US publication) from a German journalist, which places a woman's quest to rediscover her newly-dead husband in the context of West Germany's radical movement. A 30-year-old Frankfurt lawyer, well-known for his championship of radicals and social outcasts, lies dead in his bed, as plainclothes cops and medical personnel swarm through the apartment. There are just two people here with a personal claim on him: his live-in boyfriend, a high-school senior; and his widow, who had left him three years earlier on account of a previous boyfriend. The body is removed to the Medical Examiner's office; an autopsy fails to establish cause of death (most likely, asthma attack leading to cardiac arrest). The novel spans the twilight time between his death and burial 12 days later. The year is 1974--the revolutionary/terrorist movement is in disarray, its leaders in jail. Not that the unnamed lawyer and his wife were full-fledged revolutionaries: the lawyer's sympathies were with the anarchist Bakunin rather than with Lenin, and the terrorists, while using him, derided him as a ""sloppy, pleasure-loving world-reformer."" The underground network contacts the widow, demanding she search for a bag of ammunition hidden in the lawyer's office. Chafing at another menial assignment, she finds the bag but dumps it in the river, meanwhile continuing the more important search for her husband, ""among all species and genders""; in her effort to reclaim him, she visits gay bars and ex-clients, but though intermittently aware of his presence, she must make do with her realization that ""they're carrying four different men to the grave."" What's distinctive here is the luminous intelligence of the narrative voice, but all its insights into the Movement cannot disguise the novel's static nature, its trite conclusion, or its preponderance of mystification over mystery.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1986
Publisher: Harper & Row