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The Revolution of Every Day

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In the midnineties, New York’s Lower East Side contained a city within its shadows: a community of squatters who staked their claims on abandoned tenements and lived and worked within their own parameters, accountable to no one but each other. With gritty prose and vivid descriptions, Cari Luna’s debut novel, The Revolution of Every Day, imagines the lives of five squatters from that time. But almost more threatening than the city lawyers and the private developers trying to evict them are the rifts within their...
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The Revolution of Every Day

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Overview


In the midnineties, New York’s Lower East Side contained a city within its shadows: a community of squatters who staked their claims on abandoned tenements and lived and worked within their own parameters, accountable to no one but each other. With gritty prose and vivid descriptions, Cari Luna’s debut novel, The Revolution of Every Day, imagines the lives of five squatters from that time. But almost more threatening than the city lawyers and the private developers trying to evict them are the rifts within their community. Amelia, taken in by Gerrit as a teen runaway seven years earlier, is now pregnant by his best friend, Steve. Anne, married to Steve, is questioning her commitment to the squatter lifestyle. Cat, a fading legend of the downtown scene and unwitting leader of one of the squats, succumbs to heroin. The misunderstandings and assumptions, the secrets and the dissolution of the hope that originally bound these five threaten to destroy their homes as surely as the city’s battering rams. The Revolution of Every Day shows readers a life that few people, including the New Yorkers who passed the squats every day, know about or understand.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The appeal of squatters in lower Manhattan making their last stand against Giuliani will be apparent to anyone currently paying rent in New York County, but there’s little more than ’90s nostalgia at play in Luna’s debut novel. Not that the residents of Thirteen House are models of DIY bliss: the tenement’s heart and soul are the ex-junkie runaway, Amelia, and Gerrit, the partially deformed Dutch immigrant whose passion is rehabilitation—of electronics, old bikes and Amelia herself. With eviction imminent, Thirteen House’s only ally is Cat House, named both for Cat, a faded scene queen, and the many felines she adopts. Other strays include Steve, the father of Amelia’s baby, and his long-suffering wife, Anne. Not surprisingly, interpersonal politics are emphasized over the gentrification narrative, and a gloomy inevitability shadows the proceedings. “A life without constraints—that had been the goal,” but these squatters’ best days are clearly behind them. This novel gets points for not being Rent, but as a portrait of an era, it’s still a romantic simplification populated by caricatures: the wasted punk-naïf, the disfigured father figure, the damaged matriarch. There’s no revolution to be found in this novel, which feels far too prefab. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

"Luna creates an array of complex characters caught up in emotions, relationships and situations far from the ordinary as they examine their commitment to their merged family and explore their own ideals and expectations. Enlightening and marked by inventive subject matter, intense reflection and stark eloquence."
Kirkus Reviews

"Luna portrays the thorny, complicated relationships among addicts and runaways in various stages of recovery with riveting passion and heartrending realism."
Booklist

"Excellent debut novel. . .Her characters are deeply sympathetic and richly drawn, portrayed as struggling New Yorkers first, political outliers second."
LA Times Book Review

"The characters are superbly flawed, and Luna expertly leads us through their vastly different psyches and makes us understand them, even if we don't always sympathize. But just as much as it is a novel of characters, The Revolution of Every Day is the story of a city that's struggling with gentrification, as Cat puts it, "All the way back to the Dutch and the Indians, yeah?"
Bust Magazine (Five Stars)

"Luna shows how youthful dreams and a life lived just above the poverty line can ossify into something heart-breaking. "They've been so busy surviving they haven't noticed their lives hardening around them, fixing them into place," she writes about the oldest residents. "They are now all they're ever going to be." In the end, the novel examines how years of fighting for what you believe in both devastates and transforms, as each of these characters struggles to find a place to call home."
O, The Oprah Magazine, Book of the Week

"[A] juicy read, filled with secret trysts, unexpected pregnancies and mysterious personal histories . . . . Giuliani sent NYPD tanks (yes, they have tanks) into Alphabet City to oust the squatters who were responsible, at least in part, for making the neighborhood livable again, and while this is a fictional account, it truly takes you back to an earlier version of the same old New York struggle over class, space and the right to make a home for yourself in this city.
—Annaliese Griffin, Brooklyn Based

"The Revolution of Every Day is a novel that will not seem like a first. It feels evolved, it feels like it has been written with the tender, yet confident, and concentrated touch of someone who has done it many times before."
—Busking at the Seams

"Luna exposes us, with tenderness and eyes open wide, to the strange and vivid beauty of a time and place we may otherwise turn from. She provides us with a satisfying opportunity to explore a foreign world."
The OregonianThe Revolution of Every Day picked as one of the top 10 Northwest books of 2013!

"Luna skillfully ties the plight of Thirteen House and its profoundly human residents to the gentrification of the city as a whole, illustrating how someone can feel at once completely part of a city, and powerless against it."
The Portland Mercury

"In Cari Luna's debut novel, the hope, misunderstandings, and assumptions that bind five squatters living in New York City's Lower East Side during the mid-1990s threaten to unravel when developers and lawyers try to evict them from the abandoned dwellings."
—Education Week: Bookmarks

"Cari Luna's novel is as heroic as her until-now-unsung characters. Salvaging the abandoned and derelict, rooting life in what before was barren waste, Luna's urban homesteaders exhibit the same valiance as Luna the novelist: she has rescued recent, all-but-forgotten history from beneath the bulldozers of 'progress'; she has breathed new life into a lost world."
—Susan Choi, author of My Education

“Cari Luna shines a light in the dark corners of New York that most people don’t see. Her vivid portrayal of the squatters of Thirteenth Street and their fierce struggle to keep their community alive is an elegy for a city that no longer exists.”
—Elliott Holt, author of You Are One of Them

“Set in the dramatic world of the Lower East Side at the zenith of repeated waves of gentrification, The Revolution of Every Day manages to remain faithful to its own oceanic emotions. Much like the golden haze of an old photo, the novel evokes memory at its most transitory—inflected by hope, damaged by reality. Luna’s love for the New York of this time and its complexities shows through on every page.”
—Vanessa Veselka, author of Zazen

“Cari Luna’s The Revolution of Every Day is a bold, intrepid look into a world that when we are our lesser selves we would rather pass by than dwell in. But in this world, she finds devotion, loyalty, and, more eloquently, human relationships persisting in all their messiness, complexity, and glory. Like all great fiction, this novel will force us to reevaluate our perspective about the way things are and with more open hearts and minds consider how they ought to be; and by making us more tolerant, less provincial, and changing our mind-set, even if by degrees, it may make a difference when we reenter the vibrant but flawed society it portrays.”
—Ernesto Mestre-Reed, author of The Second Death of Unica Aveyano

"Cari Luna's beautiful, carefully rendered debut novel not only captures a specific moment in time in marvelous detail but also shows how our particular lives are moved by forces beyond us that we strive to understand and resist only at the greatest cost. A remarkable, unusual book."
—Emily Mitchell, author of The Last Summer of the World

"Cari Luna gets her hands dirty with her characters, digging deep and exposing vulnerable underbellies that some lesser writers might not dare explore. Masterful, precise, and utterly affecting, The Revolution of Every Day will change what you think about what makes a family, what makes a life, and how to love."
—Sara Shepard, author of Everything We Ever Wanted

"Cari Luna's beautifully written novel packs an emotional wallop for lifetime New Yorkers like me. I knew precious little about the Lower East Side squatters' movement while it was happening—my mistake. Luna makes a compelling case that flawed, wounded souls are often political visionaries. A major achievement."
—Susan Brownmiller, author of Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape

Kirkus Reviews
2013-09-15
Luna's debut novel, about the lives of homesteaders who occupy abandoned tenements in New York's Lower East Side, is an unvarnished glimpse into a fringe sector of society during the latter part of the 20th century. The occupants of Thirteen House are NYC's invisible people, imperfect and damaged, who nevertheless strive to maintain the community and families they've created. Philandering husband Steve, who opened the building in the 1980s, professes to love his wife, Anne, and wants to protect her; but Anne becomes increasingly distant and resentful. The product of a middle-class upbringing, she's suffered four miscarriages and has nothing to show for her years of marriage, especially when she compares her life with her sister's. Dutch-born Gerrit, a veteran homesteader and Steve's best friend, is ashamed of his physical deficiencies and past decisions; but he's consumed with love for young Amelia, the former junkie/runaway whom he rescued from the streets seven years ago. Amelia's now pregnant--though not with Gerrit's child--and she's worried about her future and the looming decisions she must make. Steve's first love, Cat, lives in neighboring Cat House, which is named for her. Cat's a legend among the squatters due to her association with certain celebrities when she was young and beautiful. Now she prefers a more insular life with her menagerie of cats, and she and Amelia develop an unlikely rapport. With other members of their squatter family, the five make ends meet with mainstream day jobs, but evenings find them Dumpster diving and salvaging materials to feed themselves and repair their buildings. However, the city's plan to evict them forces the squatters into action: They set up an eviction watch and enlist a lawyer to argue their case. As their convictions become embroiled with their crumbling private lives, they are swept into actions that determine their fates. Luna creates an array of complex characters caught up in emotions, relationships and situations far from the ordinary as they examine their commitments to their merged family and explore their own ideals and expectations. Enlightening and marked by inventive subject matter, intense reflection and stark eloquence.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781935639640
  • Publisher: Tin House Books
  • Publication date: 9/24/2013
  • Pages: 392
  • Sales rank: 729,078
  • Product dimensions: 4.80 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author


Cari Luna received an MFA in fiction from Brooklyn College. Her short fiction has appeared in failbetter, Avery Anthology, PANK, and Novembre Magazine. New York-born, she now lives in Portland, OR, with her husband, their two children, a cat, and four chickens.
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Read an Excerpt

1
Thirteen House groans and creaks, shifting her bones, old ship in a storm. Not that Amelia’s ever been on a ship in a storm. Not that Amelia’s ever been on anything bigger than a rowboat. Well, the Staten Island Ferry that one time, but that hardly seems to count.
“Wind’s picking up out there,” Steve says.
Amelia jams the chisel into the join where the stair tread and the riser meet and hits it with her hammer. The old wood gives a sigh, a puff of dust. She levers it up and Gerrit is there beside her with the crowbar to pry it out, the hundred-year-old nails giving the tread up easy.
“Wood rot,” he says, which is no surprise. She smells it every time she walks up the stairs; she feels it, the telltale bounce beneath her feet—signs of wood that wants to give way.
They work from the top stair down, tossing the loosed treads to Steve. He’s got the sawhorses set up in the vestibule below; he’s got the orbital saw. He numbers the old treads with a grease pencil, measures them, cuts new ones from salvaged lumber.
Anne comes through the front door, bringing a cold blast of air and the smell of rain. Her rumpled work clothes make her look old, tired. A kiss to Steve’s cheek and she squints up the staircase. “Those risers need to go, too.” And she’s right, Amelia knows. That’s the thing. Push or pull at any one part of the building and there’ll be six other things that want attention. And it’s not just the first flight of stairs that needs replacing—it’s all the stairs, from street level to the fifth floor.
“Not enough lumber,” Amelia says. Because it’s about compromise. It’s about doing what they can, when they can.
“Ah,” Anne says. “Well, there you have it.”
Steve says, “We’ll make it work.” He seems careful with Anne these days.
Anne climbs the ladder they’ve raised to the second floor, throws a leg over the banister, her skirt riding up, thick thighs in pantyhose. Steve looks away, out the door, and they hear her feet on the stairs, up to the fourth floor to her and Steve’s place. A door opens and closes.
“So we’ll do as many flights as we can—treads and risers both—with the wood we’ve got. Then we’ll head out tonight and get some more, finish the job tomorrow,” he says.
“Just like that,” Gerrit says.
“We’ll find more.” Steve switches the saw back on, the insistent hum of it kicking up sawdust as he goes hard against the wood. Amelia waits for him to look up at her, but he keeps his head down, his jaw set.
“Godverdomme,” Gerrit mutters, digging into the next tread harder than necessary.
“Grumpy old bastard,” she whispers, and he grins.
Soon enough she and Gerrit have the treads and risers all pulled off, the naked frame of the staircase rising up sad and open. It’s like revealing the secrets of the house, uncovering some century-old shame, this undressing that they do. They are like doctors over a patient’s body; not judging, just seeing with clear eyes, fixing what can be fixed. She feels bad for the old girl. It seems they’ll never reach the point where everything’s done that needs doing. Moving from one repair to another, even after all these years.
Steve measures and cuts the last stair and riser. He and Gerrit take up their hammers, working together in that easy wordless way of theirs, the staircase coming back together just like that.
#
Gerrit leans into the worn couch, watching the girls cook dinner in the community-room kitchen. The community room takes up the street-side half of the unfinished basement: cast-off chairs and a musty couch, a board-and-cinder-block bookcase, an open kitchen with a hulking old fridge and scarred counters. Amelia and Kim and Suzie are at the stove, stirring pots and chopping vegetables. Kim ladles up a spoonful of something and offers it to Amelia for a taste.
He and Steve and Amelia finished three flights of stairs today, treads and risers, just like Anne wanted. They’d been hoarding the wood for months. They brought it home piece by piece, board by board, until they had enough to replace the treads on all five flights. Today Steve wanted to please his wife, but now it falls to Gerrit to go out into the rain with him to try to find enough lumber to finish the job. For all Steve’s talk, there’s no guarantee they’ll find so much as a single board. This is Manhattan. It’s not like they can go outside and cut down trees. Not like they can drive to a hardware store and lay a credit card down, either.
They’ve got the Velvet Underground playing. “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’.” It’s Amelia’s favorite song. He reaches over and turns it up and she favors him with a small, sweet smile.
Gideon hands Gerrit a beer and drops down next to him, the couch sighing with the weight. “Long day?” Gideon says.
“You wouldn’t happen to have twelve two-by-fours to spare?” Gideon lives next door in Cat House. The two squats share tools and materials all the time, and Gerrit knows as well as Gideon they don’t have that much lumber to spare. Twelve boards is a wealth of wood.
Gideon just laughs.
Rain beats against the metal hatch doors that lie flush with the sidewalk. Inside it’s warm and smells of curry and garlic. Gerrit has a beer in his hand; there’s music playing and the high sweet chatter of the girls over by the stove. Steve comes down the basement stairs and past the kitchen. Amelia pulls at his wrist, leaning toward him to whisper into his ear. She's probably trying to get him to eat before he goes out. She's always pushing food on people, always worried they aren't eating enough. Echoes, no doubt, of her own hungry days. He feels that old familiar affection for her rise up, the waif she'd been when she first came to Thirteen House.
Gerrit doesn’t want to leave this to go on a futile search for lumber, but here comes Steve now, red-faced and blustering across the community room toward Gerrit. He supposes there is something heroic about being the ones to head out into a storm to hunt for what’s needed, and Steve rarely asks for much. Of course Gerrit is going.
“Let’s go,” Steve says. “I borrowed Jeremy’s van. Ben’s coming, too. He’s bringing the van around front now.”
“Don’t you want to eat first?”
He glances at the girls. “Anne and I ate already.”
“It’s early to be heading out.”
“Rain like this? No one’s gonna be watching to see who’s climbing into any dumpsters. We’re good.”
Gerrit walks into the kitchen and kisses the back of Amelia’s neck, goose bumps rising along her bare forearms as she ducks away with a smile. He follows Steve up the stairs, easing into his coat, and out into the rain to search for wood.
#
Amelia warms her hands on her bowl of curried lentils, leaning against the counter where Kim sits kicking her legs. The lentils smell good, earthy and familiar. She swirls her spoon in the bowl, watching the curry seep into the rice. She loves these Wednesday night dinners when they open up the community room and make food for anyone who's hungry. “We should cook together like this every night,” she says. “I don't know why we don't."
It’s been quiet so far tonight, though. A couple of crusty punks came by a little while ago, ate their food, and left. Some guys stopped in on their way to trying to get beds for the night at the Bowery Mission. Now it’s just Kim and Gideon from Cat House, and Amelia and Suzie and Marlowe the only ones from Thirteen House. Well, and Gerrit was here and Steve came in for a minute, but he didn’t stay to eat. He usually does.
She’d grabbed Steve’s hand, hoping to lead him out of sight, behind the kitchen wall into the storage area, the dark corner back by the tool cabinet. She’d wanted a kiss, or a touch, some acknowledgement. Anything. He shook off her hand. He moved right past her.
Tonight she wants the room to be full to overflowing. She wants there to be enough noise to drown out all the shit going on in her head. She wants to hear laughter; she wants the music blasting. She wants it so crowded people have no choice but to touch each other, even the ones they don’t know.
She knows people have their own lives, their own things to do. It’s a squat, not a commune. But still, some Wednesdays it seems they’re all down there together, everyone from Thirteen House and everyone from Cat House, squatters from Maus Haus and Utopia, kids from the park, and a steady stream of the homeless. In summer they all spill out onto the sidewalk like a party. Those nights are the best. Those nights she could believe lentils and rice are the best damn thing she ever ate.
“You think Anne’ll come down?" Amelia says. "Maybe I should take a bowl up to her."
"She knows we're here," Suzie says.
There’s a fear rising in Amelia, something she’s been swallowing down for days. She doesn’t want to speak it, saying it giving it a power, making it true. She leans against Kim’s legs and Kim pets her hair while she talks to Suzie and has no idea of all the things Amelia isn’t saying. My period is late, she would say. And Kim and Suzie would smile and say, Well that’s no big thing. It’ll come. But maybe it won’t. And even so, that’s only a part of it.
Denise comes down the stairs and into the kitchen, rain in her hair, rain on her glasses. She puts her arms around Suzie’s waist and kisses her softly.
Suzie rubs her cheek against Denise’s shoulder. “Are you hungry?” she asks, even as she’s already turning to the stove to spoon out the lentils. She presses a bowl into Denise’s hands and stands close and watches her eat. They speak quietly about their day, leaning in to each other, the rest of the room fallen away.
The envy rising in Amelia is ugly and tired. She walks over to the couch, sinks down next to Gideon, and takes a long pull off his beer. She nestles in under his arm and closes her eyes. The voices and the music, Gideon’s warmth. She lets herself drift.
#
The wipers drag greasy smears across the windshield. The Con Ed clock tower could be a church spire; the Empire State building, lit up all green and gold, could be Oz. Steve swings the van onto Fourteenth Street, heading west. He spotted a dumpster on Fourteenth and Third yesterday—a gut renovation of an old tenement. Five stories’ worth of wood gotta come out of that place. There’s bound to be enough.
“Look at that fucking rain,” Ben says. He leans in from the backseat, his face hanging between Gerrit and Steve.
Steve loves a good hard rain at night. It’s like the whole damn city gets washed clean. The people are hidden away and it’s quiet, quiet. The cars glide along, their taillights stretched out behind them, staining the streets red. They are anonymous and remote, unconcerned animals. It’s people you’ve got to watch out for and the rain flushes them away.
“Rain is good,” Gerrit says. “Fewer witnesses.”
Steve says, “I’m not expecting any trouble where we’re headed.”
He’s hoping to get this done quickly so they can get back home. Anne was quiet all through dinner, quiet as he left. “I’m going to get that wood now,” he’d said to her. “We’ll replace the risers. You’re right about those risers.”
“Don’t forget you’ve got first watch tonight,” she’d said.
“That’s all you’ve got to say?” He’d tried to say it with a smile. He’d tried to pull her in for a kiss but she’d moved past him, gone into the bathroom, the shower

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