Gilmore’s second novel brings us a Beltway family in 1979-80 as they grapple with their collective and individual identities against the backdrop of the Carter administration. The Iranian hostage crisis, Soviet grain embargo, and boycotted Moscow Olympics provide historical reference points, but the most compelling history in this well written novel is the social made personal.
A bulimic, punk rocker daughter struggles to find her identity by being against everything, most notably herself. A former high school jock son wonders why he wasn’t born in times where politics were passionately felt (his grandfather’s socialism as a Russian Jewish immigrant on Hester Street, his parents’ March on Washington) and tries to find a greater vision for his own life than continued success at bedding cheerleaders. The father builds a successful life in the murky Cold War economy, where grain deals and espionage cannot always be separated. The mother struggles to halt her slide into the ennui of middle aged suburban affluence through personal affirmations learned at self-help seminars, and through a small but successful catering company.
Overall, the impression is of people for whom the past is often more real than the present, the future is scarily unpredictable, and the present consists mostly of marking time. There’s a sadness, an emptiness that pervades this excellently conceived work, punctuated with a great deal of humor and spot-on observations about the era. Remember cherries jubilee and broiled pineapple as gourmet delights? Grateful Dead concerts? Bongs and acid tabs? Long haired professors teaching courses with names like “America Protests!”? They’re all here as details of an era, reminding us that when it comes to families, sometimes it is only the details that change.