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Push Comes to Shove by Wesley Brown

Push Comes to Shove (2009)

by Wesley Brown

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As the 1960’s comes to an end, a group of friends in New York city finds meaning in black revolutionary activity. Muriel, a journalist for a left-leaning newspaper loves to chase titillating stories. Her rather sedate boyfriend Raymond, a history teacher, fears for her safety as she does this. Theo, leader of the activist group Push Comes to Shove, derives joy in challenging the white establishment in his effort to even wealth and power. Naomi, a (white) Jewish lawyer, finds solace in helping blacks who find themselves in trouble. Gerald, Naomi’s husband, casts his wife aside to seek new sexual adventure with (white) nightclub owner Frank.

The story itself is narrated in two voices: those of Muriel and Randolph. Randolph is a character I kept imagining to be the voice of the author (I might be wrong). His voice seems to be that of reason. The most likable character, though, is Muriel. She tries to remain outside of the "action" due to her journalistic approach to the turbulent events around her, but she is always actively engaged in them anyway.

My initial reaction to this book was that it felt confusing and disconnected due to the many characters who appeared at the beginning of the story. To resolve this, I wrote down the characters’ names (and skin color) and noted their relationship to each other. Perhaps I should blame my age instead of the book? I certainly felt little compassion for the characters as they played out their often negative reactions to one another. Frank’s girlfriend Crystal, was so weird that I almost gave up the book entirely because I disliked reading about her so much.

The story at that point seemed disagreeable. Perhaps it was because I didn't want to focus on black anger as I looked back at a time in history that I particularly liked. Or maybe it wasn't even the period in history so much that upset me about Push Comes to Shove, but more that, in the late 60s-early 70s, I (as a young white Jewish female) was trying to cultivate friendships with blacks while this book seemed to be about the growing hate and militancy among blacks. That, however, might not have been “wrong”, as the author himself was once a member of the Black Panthers. Wesley Brown is now Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University and teaches literature at Bard College at Simon's Rock. Just as...today's yuppies were yesterday's hippies. We all come full circle, it seems.

Strangely enough, when I finished (or forced myself to finish) the book, I ended up liking it. I think that was because I finally understood that the book was about healing. There were many things upsetting about the 60s and early 70s. Some things, such as gratuitous violence, negative psychological reaction to war, black anger, and ambivalence about sexual identity, are well incorporated into this story. It was not until the last few chapters that the disconnected parts of this book began to come together, and I could see where it was headed. The last chapter even made me smile. Not bad for someone who felt she hated the book most of while she was reading it!

I would not recommend this book to anyone not well versed in 1960’s culture. However, those looking at it either in the context of history or of personal relationships might find much of value in this story. ( )
7 vote SqueakyChu | Sep 30, 2009 |
The biggest problem I had with the book isn’t so much a problem with the book than it is with me: I was born in 1970. I didn’t even participate in the 1960s much less live as an activist. Activism of the radical sort and war didn’t take any toll on me. Push Comes to Shove assumes some of that shared experience rather than working to get the reader into a sympathetic state. Without my own experience, this was an interesting relationship story but not super-engrossing. Your mileage may vary.

Full review at my blog: http://reading.kingrat.biz/reviews/push-comes-to-shove-wesley-brown ( )
  KingRat | Aug 8, 2009 |
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In her post-Push Comes to Shove existence, Muriel begins writing for a left-wing journal, setting herself the task of "putting a human face on individuals whose bombings, kidnappings and plane hijackings seemed without rhyme or reason to most Americans." Brown admirably succeeds in doing the same thing...He writes about this milieu with compassion and deep insight.
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In memory of Averna Aams, Fatisha Hutson, June Jordan, John Leonard and Robert Tishler
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