Daughters of the Revolution
“Disaster is genius, lurking. Be careful. Don’t die.” These are the words of Mei-Mei, the wife of Heck Hellman and mother of EV Hellman, characters who are living through the revolutionary whirlwind of the 1960s in a small New England town. After Heck, a first-year medical student, dies in a drowning accident, he is highly praised as a model Goode School student by his elderly headmaster, Goddard Byrd, the real protagonist of this story full of inconceivable twists and turns. For God, the nickname for Byrd, wants liberation for his students, which he believes originates from a combination of knowledge of and reflection about literature, history, philosophy, and the Latin classics. But God is a philandering old man who fails to realize the effect of his lustful excesses on his hapless victims, an abuse in so many ways paralleling the world of race, religion, politics, government, war, marriage, etc.
A surrealistic quality pervades the pages of this novel as Mei-Mei educates her daughter to live her life on the sayings and beliefs of Herman Melville in Moby Dick, with the addition of Mei-Mei’s temporary lover, God, who worships the philosophy of Joseph Conrad in The Heart of Darkness. Their foil appears in the person of Carol Faust, Goode School’s first African-American female student – first female student, for that matter. In attempting to conform to this new world, Carol forges a new identity in which she finds her own authority in this intellectual maze, characterized in her portraits depicting only the heads of masters from George Washington to God himself.
Spanning the years 1963 to 2005, this literate novel celebrates the genius and turmoil of revolution gone awry with occasional glimmers of focus. Genius at some points in history is indeed revolutionary, albeit fraught with life-threatening possibilities.