Deb Olin Unferth and Justin Taylor’s Revolution Winter

Posted by Jason Diamond

We keep getting these promises that America is on the brink of revolution: Barack Obama was going to take everything he ever learned from Saul Alinsky, and turn American into the free enterprise utopia it was destined to be, but then it didn’t happen.  The Tea Party was going to be the revolution that was going to change the Republican Party, but now all it’s doing is really mucking things up for the right, and letting crazy Michele Bachman crazily reply to Obama’s State of the Union.

There’s no foreseeable American Revolution on the horizon.  Big corporations co-opt the term and tell us “The McRib Revolution is coming!”  A bunch of fat white people might walk around saying that we’re taking back the country from…something, but then that falls by the wayside while waiting in the drive-thru line for their McRibs.

Meanwhile, there is actual revolution taking place on our planet: Tunisa, Egypt, to name a couple.  Turn on the television at any given time, and you’re bound to find some pundit who makes 6 or 7 figures commenting on places he’s never been to.

I don’t know if I’m ever going to see a revolution in my lifetime.  As I sit here typing this in my small, but comfortable Brooklyn apartment, I’m actually okay with that.  Revolution would end up compromising these comforts, and as hard as it is for me to admit it, I’ve become quite happy with my lifestyle.  I wouldn’t trade that to hurl Molotov cocktails at the soldiers of oppression.  Mostly because I hate violence, but also because I’m a little bit lazy.

Deb Olin Unferth and Justin Taylor both have new books out.  Both of them deal with revolutions, that unfurl with varying levels of success.   The big difference is that Taylor’s The Gospel of Anarchy, is fiction, and Olin Unferth’s book, which is conveniently titled (for this essay) Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War, is a memoir.  Both books take place in chaotic worlds.  The obvious difference is that the things in Revolution happened to Olin Unferth, but who knows how autobiographical Taylor’s novel is?

Revolution is definitely not your typical “and then we did this, and then we did that” sort of affair.   Olin Unferth is a smart writer.  She smartly tells a story of trying to find revolution in mid-1980s Central America through brief vignettes, instead of 200 of words of interesting story, followed by 3,000 words of needless crap.   Her short tales of (mis)adventure are distant, but her failings are universal.  Revolution is a live and learn story; it’s told masterfully, and with a very necessary dose of humor.

Taylor’s first attempt at a novel is a different kind of revolution.  Where Olin Unferth goes looking for revolution, Taylor’s crust punks, hippies and anarchists are beautiful losers in search of spiritual fulfillment of a different kind.  They’re outsiders who decide that the only logical thing to do when you’re living in a flophouse is start a cult based on the writings of a transient who lived in a tent in the backyard.  It’s an insane idea, but Taylor pulls it off.  He makes you believe that there is probably a way to balance being an anarchist, and being a “Post-Christian.”  The Gospel of Anarchy is a beautiful meeting of Don Delillo, Philip Roth and Aaron Cometbus.  The story is absurd, probably because it’s so foreign of a concept.  The lives led by the characters in Gospel seem bizarre, and frankly, a bit unbelievable; but that’s what is so great about this book.  It’s such a brave choice for a debut novel, and the plot is strange because while reading, you swear up and down that these things could never ever happen to you.