Movement: A Novel

Movement: A Novel

by Valerie Miner

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This novel in stories tracks ten years in the life of Susan, a journalist and feminist, during a time of transition in America

Susan is an activist. And yet, though her political ideals form the center of her life, she questions her convictions. At the heart of this string of interconnected stories are tensions among ideas, feelings, and action. Miner


This novel in stories tracks ten years in the life of Susan, a journalist and feminist, during a time of transition in America

Susan is an activist. And yet, though her political ideals form the center of her life, she questions her convictions. At the heart of this string of interconnected stories are tensions among ideas, feelings, and action. Miner deftly interweaves Susan’s story with the tales of women whom Susan will never meet. The result is a textured and enveloping book that creates a sense of universality.

Written with a deep understanding of activism, Miner’s novelistic retrospective of the feminist movement questions everything from marriage to Marxism. This fascinating work gives a true and unflinching view of what it means to be a woman in the world.

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A Novel

By Valerie Miner


Copyright © 1982 Valerie Miner
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-1231-0



Susan slid the romaine leaf around the faded parquet bowl. It was too heavy with oil to curl through her fork. Larry Blake's special salad had more garlic than she remembered and the Coke tasted oversweet. Still, everything had a certain pungency compared to the stewed tea on which she had been surviving in London for years. A jock sat down in the opposite booth. Varsity most likely. He wore a pin-striped shirt under the Vaughn maroon sweater. Fraternities were popular again, she had heard, and everybody went to football games.

Susan felt personally offended, as if the last ten years hadn't happened. What did the 70's reap but an excuse for apathy? They hadn't "overcome" anything except their own idealism. Not completely true. But Berkeley seemed the same as before the Revolution—right down to these sunset scapes of San Francisco Bay on the restaurant walls. Her first year at Berkeley, she thought this was what you called an art exhibit. Some things had changed. She used to like Larry Blake's restaurant for the art exhibits.

Larry Blake's. What could you expect? Of course Guy would insist on meeting here, where they used to come for salads after studying. His conscience was a compass, always drawing them back around. Guy, her ex-husband, her first lover. None of the labels were either indelible or ephemeral enough. He was a ghost in her life; he would always be there, somewhere in the shadow of her former self. She looked at her watch and worried. It wasn't like Guy to be late.

Occasionally, Susan still wondered if she should have stayed with him. She might have been saner, safer in their academic coterie, drinking more gin and less tonic, serving cottage cheese and mandarin oranges on Centura unbreakable side plates. But the whole marriage stretched between "what-ifs" and "might-have-beens." And Susan was getting too old for abstractions.

She used to fantasize about what image she would bring back for him—successful critic, laid back vagabond, mad politico, artiste—and she used to worry about what he would choose to see. The six years since their divorce had spun as dizzily as a projector on rewind: Liberation, reel one. Now she wanted to tell him all she had learned about their marriage, him and herself. All that she had discovered about being a woman, about coming from an immigrant, unschooled, working class family. Although they had been married for seven years they had, like most proper Americans, ignored the delicate issues of class. She wanted to tell him about her failed contributions to the Mozambican revolution. About how she learned over and over that America was not the center of the world. And there was so much that was hard to speak in anecdotes. How she had moved from being a good Catholic girl to being a radical feminist. She wanted to tell him how she discovered she had a decent mind and then that she had deep feelings and fervent commitments and how she was just beginning to believe again that she had a soul. Even this morning she debated about wearing her Zanzibarian dress or her jeans and workshirt. Now, realizing how loud was the sameness around her, she understood that she didn't have to project any image. It didn't matter what he thought. It didn't matter if he showed up. And knowing this, she could wait a while longer.

Of course he would come back to the States when Carter pardoned the draft dodgers. Although it should have been amnesty rather than pardon, although deserters should have been included, although Guy and Susan had both sworn futures to Canada, the land of the possible, they would each come back. Guy had written to her: "Life is not a moral gymnasium." Susan had been able to appreciate Shaw only after the divorce. Yes, she had long known they would come back in different ways to different places in Berkeley.

The waiter deposited thick, bloody steaks in front of the jock and his girlfriend. Extra rare. She and Guy would have had just enough money now to order sirloin, to buy an el toro and paddle around the Bay. As it was, she could barely afford this salad. If nothing else, money marked the solid distinction between what might have been and what actually was.

Susan looked down at her notebook, pretending to read. The proposal for her next book. Had she brought it to save time or to show Guy or to hide behind at a solitary lunch?

They had been the ideal couple, much admired, often envied. Young, dedicated, vigorous. With a certain stylish earnestness. A handsome intelligence—they were the kind of couple who would be photographed for marijuana magazine ads in a few years. Political, unneurotic, talented, professional without being careerist. Comfortable in the funky apartment they shared with another couple above an Italian grocery in a West Indian district of Toronto. Even Guy's mother—after she had made her way through the neighbors—had to admit that the giant paisley cushions and the macrographics were "kind of cute and so resourceful." Guy was doing well in graduate school and Susan was making enough money from the magazine to buy a new sound system. Everything that might have been was happening.

So why was she unhappy? Her therapist told her she wasn't ready to grow up. Her Marx teacher told her she was tied to bourgeois gratifications. Her CR group told her she was confined by the patriarchal family. And everybody, despite their caveat, thought she and Guy had an open or healthy or growing relationship. Their friends were surprised when they split up: "Of all people." Susan was surprised that they were surprised.

She reached deep into her scarred leather purse and pulled out Guy's note. One o'clock. He said one o'clock. Now it was nearly 2:00 p.m.

In college, she would daydream about meeting her lover at an Italian restaurant with red-checked tablecloths and with Chianti bottles hanging from the ceiling. He would be a rather 50's Jack Lemmon lover. She never dreamed about her lover arriving, just about the waiting, about savoring his arrival. Now, she returned to her notebook, absently spooning the ice from her water glass to dilute the sweetness of the Coke. She used to do this with rum.

She remembered one stunning Bacardi afternoon during the last month of their marriage. She sat on the giant paisley cushion with page proofs strewn around her. Appalachian Spring was spinning on the Gerrard. She nibbled from a plate of carrots and raisins, sipping her third rum and Coke. For half an hour she had sat, staring blankly. There was something she had to figure out. Something about Guy's motivation for ... now, what was it? Guy's motivation for....

She had sat for another twenty minutes groping for the idea and releasing it just as it filed back into her head. Maybe she didn't want to settle the "marriage thing" after all. Maybe she had always known it would break down. No, the scary part was that there was nothing she had always known. This marriage was her fault, she realized, adding the rest of the rum to her Coke. When they were at Berkeley, she wanted to get married; he just wanted to live together. He said he needed a lot more backpacking, a lot more political work and, to be up front, a lot more screwing around before he settled into anything. But she won. They were married because, if nothing else, it was necessary for crossing borders.

The whole summer before the divorce had continued like that—phasing in and out, days sunk to the bottom of her glass. She switched to sherry, because it was cheaper, more convenient—for some reason. Everything was paced to possible depressions. Could she rationalize a drink for this? A little extra sleep for that? What the hell had happened to her? To them? It wasn't his fault. He was faithful. Now he was talking about kids and a communal house. Just what she had asked for. Why did she get herself into the labyrinth of drinking and sleeping that desultory summer?

Guy's note, she read it again. Yes, one o'clock. This was his first communication in three years, despite a dozen letters from her. He used to be the prolific one. He had maintained the correspondence with their families. He was the sentimental one. And now?

Often in those last days he had tried to relieve her spells of depression. On their seventh anniversary he suggested a good dinner at Damarco's. They both tried to enjoy the vignette. Red-checked tablecloths. Chianti bottles. (But she had no one to wait for. They had come together.) Guy ordered them the second most expensive thing on the menu. They talked about plans for the summer and about a friend from Berkeley who would visit the next week. He said he wanted to tell her something and he hoped it wouldn't sound too soppy. He rather liked being married to a frizzy radical. Of course he wasn't politically impotent just because he was an intellectual. His work in the dialectical influences on Freud was important for the Movement too. He wasn't going to apologize. Anyway, he knew she wasn't judgmental; that was one of the reasons he would always love her.

After that meal at Damarco's, she really craved a liqueur. Kahlua or Tia Maria. No, she had promised herself—only three drinks a night. What the hell was wrong with her anyway? Why was she constricted by his good will? Guilty. Yes, she had used this marriage for her own ends, for support and confidence. Now she needed to stand alone. Maybe not completely guilty. "A mortal sin is a knowing offense against...." She sipped her coffee slowly, trying not to conjure the soothing qualities of Kahlua. The change had come naturally, at least imperceptibly. They had both changed. They weren't the same people. God, it all sounded so trite, so hollow, so boring. No, this couldn't—wouldn't—happen to them, she told herself. They would talk when they got to bed. This air was too close with smoke and parmesan for sense. Once they got out of this place, they would be all right.

Neither of them felt like going to bed. Guy suggested Scrabble. She agreed. Her first word was "cache."

"That's a double word score," he smiled, "twenty-four points."

From that moment, that move, Susan never again doubted that they would separate. And understanding so, she didn't have much left to figure out.

She did wonder, now as she waited at Larry Blake's, whether Guy still played Scrabble.

Joan Crawford Revival

He didn't usually pick up hitchhikers. But she was wearing this green Joan Crawford hat. He hadn't seen those broad-rimmed hats since his kid sister used to mug around in them. Green felt with a red polka dot sash. Ah, what the hell, he was an hour up on his time. He'd make it by tomorrow, easy, even if he had to go out of his way to drop her off. He supposed that's what you did with hitchhikers. Anyway, he was fed up with these radio phone-ins. Wouldn't mind a little company. So he eased over to the curb. She looked up, delighted.

"Where ya heading?" he shouted into the frozen morning.

"East," she said briskly, "as far as you're going East."

"Well, I can't take you to the Atlantic Ocean. But I am going as far as Salt Lake City. Hop in if you like." He thought maybe he sounded a little too flip.

She grinned, piled her satchels in the back seat and slid into the front. She fastened the seat belt with the same dispatch as his wife and he noticed how different the two of them were. Different spirit. From the road, he had guessed that she was mid-twenties, like his sister. But now he could see she was at least thirty-five. Interesting how some women just stay young.

He felt her looking at him looking at her. He couldn't just ask why she was going East. He didn't want to start off with something boring like that. "Running away from home?" he chuckled.

"Yes," she said, unpinning her hat, placing it on her lap and watching the road ahead.


Maple Leaf or Beaver

"Will you check the turnoff for Highway 80?" The first thing Guy had said for three hours.

"Just past Reno," Susan said. "And from there, let's see, it's about 2,000 miles."

He smiled and turned on the radio.

By the Time I Get to Phoenix.

Susan watched the dark, bearded man behind the wheel of this van which carried all her belongings—grapefruit crates of clothes and books and the hope of silver-coated wedding presents. The van, itself, was a wedding gift, purchased with a rather grand check from Guy's father four years ago. She thought the van suited them perfectly: sensible and unpretentious. She hated cushy sedans reeking of new naugahyde and isolated from the world by shock absorbers.

"Doesn't this remind you of a covered wagon?" Susan asked, nervously twisting a curl of her long brown hair.

"Not exactly," Guy said. "I mean, we are wearing seat belts."

"How far do you think we'll get today?" she asked. She didn't say, "What if we can't get across the border?"

"I dunno," he said. "Let's just drive 'till we're tired." He turned up the radio.

By the Time I Get to Phoenix....

She didn't really want to talk now, either. She would have a whole life to talk with this taciturn man who was her husband. Whoever he was. Whomever he would become. "Jesus Christ." Her mother had suggested the resemblance soon after she found out Guy was going to be a professor. The image changed to "Rasputin" when mother saw Guy on KPIX, burning his draft card. Susan, herself, had always thought Guy looked like Peter Yarrow on the cover of Album 1700. How could she have known that The Great Mandella would let them off at a strange border?

She wanted to be with Guy. She loved Guy's commitment and intelligence. She enjoyed being part of his family. They argued about theatre and read The Economist. They were interested in her work. They asked about propaganda and objectivity and literary journalism. Not that her own mother wasn't interested. She had always wanted Susan to be happy. She waited on tables in dingy restaurants for twenty years so her daughter could be happy in America. Susan appreciated that her family were good, hard-working people. But they never understood her wanting to go to college, never asked questions about her writing. Maybe she was a little ashamed of their grammar and their bowling trophies. Yes, she was ashamed of being ashamed. And eventually her mother approved of Guy Thompson, approved of her marrying up, although she didn't want her moving away. Certainly not moving as far as Canada. Somehow all of Susan's shame and guilt and regret about their separation got lost in those arguments about Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. But there had been no choice, no choice about the war.

Susan wanted to stop the van and ask, "What if we don't get in?" Instead, she kept her silence and watched the asphalt hem into brown Nevada hills. The border guards weren't allowed to inquire about the draft; all the selective service counselors had said so. Still, gossip was that some guys got turned away. What if they couldn't get in at Windsor? Should they try Sarnia? Would they hide out in the north Michigan woods? Susan and Guy had carefully discussed the leaving. They were reconciled about not being able to return to the States. But what if they had nowhere to go? She refused to think about it.

She thought, instead, about last night's conversation with Mother.

"It's against the law," her mother said.

"Mother, we've been through this before."

"You're breaking the law, both of you."

"Is it a good law? Is it a good war?"

"Why can't you get out of it legally, like your brother Bill?"

"You know that we've tried, for eighteen months, to get out of it. As for Bill --Bill does ballistics research. That's the same as fighting."

"Better that Guy go to jail, like Joan Baez' husband."

"Mother, you're not honestly suggesting that."

"And what about your job? You're going to leave all that, chasing off to Canada with some man?"

"Well, this is interesting. Since when have you found my career more sacred?

Besides, it was a mutual decision. We're both resisting."

Silence. Patience, Susan reminded herself. It was important that this conversation end well.



"When you left Scotland to come to the States, it was your choice."

"That was entirely different. It was money. I left so I could make a living somewhere. But you, you've got a college education. You could have a nice home here. Listen," she spoke more slowly and softly now, "every country has its problems."

"Mom, phone calls from Canada are going to be expensive. Why don't we make the best of this?"

"Of course dear, you're right, dear. Remember I love you. Remember...."

Susan stared out the van window at the endless road ahead. And she thought about how Guy's parents were such a contrast as they sat around the family breakfast table this morning.

Guy and Susan had risen wordlessly and slipped on the matching brown and beige terry cloth robes his parents had given them.

Dr. Thompson was sitting at the oak table, slowly rotating a crystal glass of orange juice. Mrs. Thompson called from the kitchen, "Perhaps you should go and wake them, darling?"

"No, no need," laughed Guy. "We wouldn't want to be late for...."


Excerpted from Movement by Valerie Miner. Copyright © 1982 Valerie Miner. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Valerie Miner is the award-winning author of fourteen books, including novels, short fiction collections, and nonfiction. Miner’s work has appeared in the Georgia Review, TriQuarterly, Salmagundi, New Letters, Ploughshares, the Village Voice, Prairie Schooner, the Gettysburg Review, the Times Literary Supplement, the Women’s Review of Books, the Nation, and other journals. Her stories and essays have been published in more than sixty anthologies. A number of her pieces have been dramatized on BBC Radio 4. Her work has been translated into German, Turkish, Danish, Italian, Spanish, French, Swedish, and Dutch. She has won fellowships and awards from the Rockefeller Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Jerome Foundation, the Heinz Foundation, the Bogliasco Foundation, Fundación Valparaiso, the Australia Council Literary Arts Board, and numerous other organizations. She has received Fulbright fellowships to Tunisia, India, and Indonesia. Winner of a Distinguished Teaching Award, she has taught for over twenty-five years and is now a professor and artist in residence at Stanford University. She travels internationally giving readings, lectures, and workshops. Her website is

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