Something Red

by Jennifer Gilmore

"... ambitious and provocative, more Molotov cocktail than standard-issue domestic drama, raising profound questions about loyalty, independence, love of family and country ..."--O, the Oprah Magazine

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780547549422
  • ISBN-10: 0547549423
  • Pages: 320
  • Publication Date: 03/10/2011
  • Carton Quantity: 24
About the Book
About the Author
Excerpts
  • About the Book
    In Washington, D.C., life inside the Goldstein home is as tumultuous as the swiftly changing times. In 1979, the Cold War is waning and the age of protest has come and gone, leaving a once radical family to face a new set of challenges. Something Red is a masterly novel that unfurls with suspense, humor, and insight.

    Dennis, whose government job often takes him to Moscow, struggles both to succeed in a career he doesn’t quite believe in and to live up to his father’s leftist legacy. Sharon, a caterer for the Washington elite, joins a cultlike group in search of the fulfillment she once felt. Happy-go-lucky Benjamin is heading off to college, there to experience an awakening of social conscience, and sixteen-year-old Vanessa finds a cure for alienation in D.C.’s hardcore music scene. As each of them follows separate trajectories of personal protest and compromise along the edge of a new decade, radical traditions long dormant in their family awaken once again, with shocking, far-reaching results.

    A poignant story of husbands and wives, parents and children, activists and spies,

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  • About the Author
  • Excerpts

    CHAPTER 1

    Not Everyone Carried Marbles

    August 25, 1979

     It was hot as hell and Sharon Goldstein knew everyone had to be
    positively sweltering out back. Her mother was especially intolerant
    of humidity and boastful that Los Angeles, the paradise that she and
    her husband had been wrested away from to come here, to Washington,
    did not make its inhabitants bear such humiliating conditions. ( What
    about earthquakes, Nana? Vanessa had said yesterday, but Helen had
    waved her away.) It was only six o’clock and already the cicadas were
    screaming.
     As Sharon made her way around the kitchen, she pictured each one
    piling paper-thin sheets of prosciutto (well, not her father, whose newly
    kosher regime she refused to acknowledge) on melon wedges, and
    spreading runny Brie on the baguette she’d baked yesterday. Imagining
    her family eating in the yard bordered by the lit tiki lights pleased her.
    More, she had to admit, than actually sitting there with them.
     The neighborhood sounds of skateboards scraping asphalt and
    kids playing kick-the-can drifted in through the open doors, and she
    could see the Farrell girls across the street waving their thin arms in
    the air so the gnats would go to the highest point, far away from their
    tanned, freckled faces. As Sharon diced cucumbers and apples for
    her gazpacho—what made hers special was a garnish of peeled green
    apples and long slivers of tender basil—she wondered if her idea of an
    outdoor dinner had been misguided.
     “To see Ben off!” she’d told Dennis last month. They’d been lying
    in bed watching President Carter talk about the energy crisis, and she’d
    opened her night-table drawer, taken out an emery board, and begun
    to saw at her nails. The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening
    to destroy the social and the political fabric of America, Carter had said, and
    Sharon had turned to her husband. “Let’s have a family dinner for
    Ben,” she’d said. “We’ll have your parents and mine, and we’ll eat in
    the backyard. The night before he goes.”
     “Shh,” Dennis said. “I’m listening to this.”
     Sharon hadn’t been able to focus on the speech, perhaps because
    her son’s impending departure had caused alarm, or was it a symptom
    of the general malaise of the country that the president was speaking
    about ? Apathy was not like her; once Sharon had been a woman who
    had cared about politics deeply. Too deeply, perhaps, and this had led
    her to flee conservative Los Angeles, her parents’ Los Angeles, the one
    with her father’s balding B-movie cronies chewing cigars on the back
    deck and discussing the HUAC hearings. I don’t give one goddamn
    who goes down, they’d said. Communists? Just ask me. They’d spit
    names up at the sky, toward the fuzzy line of the San Gabriels. That
    Los Angeles. Sharon had come east to George Washington University,
    even though Helen said no one smart went to GW, ever, and at the
    end of her junior year Sharon had found herself sitting at a Student
    Nonviolent Coordinating Committee meeting planning the Freedom
    Riders’ trip from Washington to New Orleans, to register voters and
    fight Jim Crow in each city along the way.
     By summer, Sharon and her roommate, Louise Stein, decided they
    wanted to accompany the hundreds of other kids, black and white, all
    ready to sit together at luncheonettes across the South. The Klan was
    rumored to be waiting in Birmingham to beat Riders, but Sharon and
    Louise ignored these reports, believing that being together and doing
    what was right would somehow arm them against terrible violence.
     The night before they were to get on that Trailways bus to Mississippi,
    however, Sharon’s father forbade it. Don’t you so much as set
    foot on that bus, he’d phoned to tell her. And Sharon had listened.
    The next day, she stood at the door gathering her robe at her throat and
    watched Louise go out into the foggy Georgetown morning alone. She
    returned not a week later, after a night in jail in Jackson, Mississippi.
    Sharon had been nearly feral with envy as she’d run her hands along
    the white insides of Louise’s wrists, where the handcuffs had been
    locked too tight, the blue-black bruises flowering where the metal had
    pinched her skin.
     But Sharon had listened to her father, and instead of fighting for
    civil rights, she’d dated two doctors, a lawyer, and one potter before
    settling on Dennis, marrying, and having children.
     The night of Carter’s speech, though, she thought instead of
    Benjamin throwing his jockstraps and Merriweather Post concert
    T-shirts into a green duffel bag and heading north.
     “Don’t you think a dinner will be nice, D?” Sharon had asked.
     Our people are losing faith, Carter had said. The phrase had momentarily
    stopped her menu planning—an elegant barbecue, steak and grilled
    corn and cold soup and some kind of a summer cobbler. She looked
    up at the screen and wondered if the president had just read her mind.
    Lost faith. She had thought then of her father, finding God as if He
    were a shiny penny he’d come upon along a crowded city street.
     It was 1979; only a decade and a half previously, Sharon had been
    pregnant with Vanessa when Louise had come to D.C. to march for jobs
    and freedom. As they’d entered the Mall, she handed Sharon a fistful
    of marbles. So horses will slip and fall and the pigs will be crushed,
    Louise hissed. Things could get violent, she’d said. Dennis had looked
    askance as he held Ben high, so he could see just how many people
    were standing against inequality, and Sharon remembered fingering
    the marbles, the feel of them pinging against one another along her
    hips when she moved. They’d given her a sense of reckless power, but
    she did not let them fall. Sharon was no revolutionary, she knew that
    now, but she had tried and she had cared profoundly, and she had been
    so furious at her father that she had fled for the East Coast, but in the
    end she had not defied him. Yet, she had thought that glorious day, it
    was not every girl who could say she carried marbles.
     Now her faith in the power to make changes in the world felt like a
    fluid that had been drained from her.
     “Okay!” Dennis said. “Please, Sharon.” His hand hovered over her
    wrist to stop her from filing her nails, and Sharon settled back and
    decided right then: gazpacho.
     Now Sharon opened the fridge and lifted the large serving bowl,
    hugging it to her chest. As she headed out back, she thought that though
    the outdoor dinner may have been a flawed idea, she had known it
    would be perfect to have the family sitting together in the backyard,
    all along the large communal table, the scuffed wood illuminated by lit
    candles and flickering torches, before Ben became a dot on the horizon
    and left them all behind.

    Benjamin absentmindedly carved at the wooden table with his steak
    knife until he saw his mother emerge from the porch with a colossal
    glass bowl of red soup, the screen door slapping behind her. She
    carried it with the same beaming pride with which she brought out her
    impeccably browned turkey at Thanksgiving and her tender brisket at
    Passover, with an air that made it impossible—and unnecessary—to
    compliment her.
     “Borscht!” Tatiana, Dennis’s mother, threw her delicate white hands
    up in delight.
     Sharon nudged in between Ben and her father to place

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