Cari Luna - 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. Enlightening and marked by inventive subject matter, intense reflection and stark eloquence



Cari Luna, The Revolution of Every Day. Tin House Books, 2013.

cariluna.com/

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.

Read an excerpt in The Villager.
Read an excerpt on the Tin House blog.

Online
“Priced Out of New York,” personal essay, in Salon.
“Death Before Cell Phones,” personal essay, in Nailed Magazine.
“Lolita and Nick Cave,” personal essay, for Uprise Books Project.
Gone to Water,” short fiction, in PANK.
Go,” short fiction, in failbetter

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.Kirkus Reviews

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

“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-star review)

“[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

“Cari Luna’s debut novel The Revolution of Every Day marvels on many levels as she skillfully evokes the Lower East Side of the mid-1990s through the lens of its squatters. Her eye for their vulnerable yet visionary lives makes this one of the finest New York novels I have read.”–Largehearted Boy

“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

“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

“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

“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

“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

“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

“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

Much has been written recently about the impossibility of a middle-class existence in New York. Cari Luna sets her sights on an even more beleaguered socio-economic group with her excellent debut novel, "The Revolution of Every Day," which looks at squatter culture in the mid-'90s, when a tenement house in Manhattan's East Village could be seized by idealistic rebels.
At Thirteen House, one of a clique of interconnected squats, a young runaway named Amelia is pregnant, but not by Gerrit, her Dutch boyfriend with a savior complex (he helped her kick heroin). The baby's father is Steve, the charismatic leader of Thirteen House who's been long married to Anne, a suburban girl now in her mid-30s who's growing tired of living as a shadow figure with no career or family, all of her energies poured into her political stance. Luna finely conveys the tenuous position of the squatters in the fiercely capitalist habitat of New York. The squatters bring in a lawyer to battle the city's emergency evacuation order against them, but the might of Rudy Giuliani's forces bear down regardless. Using a strong and simple hand, Luna braids together the larger fight against the city's battering rams with the building's interpersonal dynamics. Her characters are deeply sympathetic and richly drawn, portrayed as struggling New Yorkers first, political outliers second. - Margaret Wappler

The place where dispossession, whether by choice or by circumstance, meets underground culture is having its moment in the literary sun right now. Jerry Stahl's Happy Mutant Baby Pills and Jonathan Lethem's Dissident Gardens both incorporate the Occupy movement into their narratives, the former as part of a politically charged cavalcade of idealists and realists at odds, the latter as the latest in a series of distinctively American revolutionary movements. One of the plotlines in Jonathan Miles's novel Want Not centers around a young couple squatting on the Lower East Side in 2007, and their struggles to balance idealism with their own fraught pasts. The economic anxieties that have been in high gear since 2008 help explain why these concerns remain relentlessly current for many novelists. Channeling that tension into fiction can be revelatory, educational, or cathartic. It's not surprising, then, that the unrest that serves as the backdrop for Cari Luna's The Revolution of Every Day feels up-to-the-minute, even though Luna's novel is set in 1994 and 1995. Specifically, it's set on the Lower East Side in the early years of Rudy Giuliani's administration, when squatting was unorthodox but not unheard of. Luna's novel of idealists grappling with the institutionalized hostility of a city serves as both a gripping narrative and a moving exploration of the limits of ideology.
Early on, Luna notes that Thirteen House, besieged home of many of her characters, is "a squat, not a commune." When discussing ways to rally support for Thirteen House, Amelia, the squat's youngest member, says, "We should be pushing the homesteader angle more." Steve and Anne, the married couple at the center of Thirteen House, have opted for that way of life out of staunch political convictions; Gerrit, Amelia's more-or-less boyfriend, brings with him memories of clashing with police during his youth in Amsterdam. From the outset, then, there are two distinct strains of a similar ideology—one philosophical and the other more confrontational—present in Thirteen House, each with its own revolutionary history. As the novel opens, the existence of the squat has become precarious: The conflation of political opposition and real estate encroachment threatens Thirteen House's existence. It's one of the novel's bitterest ironies that other squats at the fringes of the narrative, whose residents are more self-centered or drawn towards addictions, seem far less threatened by the convergence of political pressures and the real estate market.
The growing tensions between Thirteen House's four inhabitants puts even more than their physical space at risk. Steve and Anne's marriage has worn thin after a series of miscarriages: Anne is drawn to her sister's more settled lifestyle in Brooklyn, while Steve finds his own desires wandering. When the novel opens, he has already had an affair with Amelia, who is now pregnant. Gerrit, meanwhile, bears deep scars from his mother's use of Thalidomide, and is haunted by memories from his time across the ocean. Luna's story line is not confined to these two uneasy couples; her narrative encompasses the squat next door, Cat House, whose namesake is a longtime downtown resident. "She fronted a punk band called Tonsillectomy," Luna writes, describing Cat, "and thought maybe she'd be a rock star, but she just ended up another name on the very long list of people Lou Reed was rude to." Though the fates of Cat House and Thirteen House are interconnected, Cat's actions largely serve as a counterpoint to the interpersonal dramas next door. She's an acute observer of the passage of time in the city, flashing back to her childhood as she walks to her current greenmarket job, musing on friends lost and departed.
The Revolution of Every Day's characters are initially drawn with broad strokes, with memorable details slowly emerging over the course of the novel. Between this approach and the socially charged narrative, the influence of John Steinbeck looms large over The Revolution of Every Day—the novel aims to both succeed as a work of fiction and to provide a window into an aspect of society with which its readers might not be familiar. And, like Steinbeck, Luna has a penchant for dizzying reversals. By novel's end, Steve will prove to be a more complex character than his philandering might indicate, and Gerrit will turn out to be much more flawed, a man more in love with the idea of being a tortured martyr than in moving forward. There are no easy heroes here—only flawed figures whose ideals may not be enough to carry them through the conflicts that besiege them.
A deep sadness suffuses the novel. Some of that comes from the passing of a way of life, from the upending of squats to the death of an old friend of Cat's. But it's also about the limitations of ideologies. Steve finds himself haunted by the education he abandoned and the memory of his working-class family; Anne discovers that her lifestyle may cost her her job. The novel's complex view of idealism isn't limited to the squatters at its core. At one point, Amelia observes the city attorney tasked with evicting them in a legal hearing: "Why would you take a government job instead of working in a fancy law firm, unless you wanted to help people? She must have meant well, Amelia thinks. And now here it is her job to do Giuliani's dirty work. Amelia almost feels sorry for her."
Luna avoid the easy romanticizing of homesteading in all of its forms, instead focusing on the exhausting parade of small actions required to keep a quasi-legal residence inhabitable, from scavenging materials for structural repairs to seeking out sympathetic lawyers to aid in an unending battle with the city. Luna presents this as an ongoing struggle, a process that makes its characters almost heroic, even as the constant questioning of their life leaves them conflicted with each other, the city around them, and the conventions of society. Anne reminds herself at one point, when reading a mystery novel, that "it's okay to read things just because they're fun." And it's the tension inherent in a revolutionary way of life that makes this novel ultimately compelling.
"Shouldn't people know they aren't just a bunch of punks crashed out in crumbling buildings? That they aren't freeloaders out to get something for nothing or whatever it is people are thinking about them? Shouldn't people know how hard they work?" Amelia thinks when looking over a flyer designed to rally the community. Luna seeks to answer those questions with this novel. Between the rhapsodic descriptions of the Lower East Side and the still-gripping account of economic anxieties and fading idealism, there's plenty to admire here. The novel provides no clear answers, only haunting memories and the knowledge that the cycles it describes are far from over. In its description of quotidian moments of revolution and the haunting questions that they provoke, Luna has created a sympathetic portrait of those whose ethics leave them out of sync with the greater society. - Tobias Carroll

One of the pleasures of reading is being lifted from your life and dropped into a new and bold world. Portland writer Cari Luna's debut novel, "The Revolution of Every Day," an elegy to a disappeared New York, does not disappoint. During the late 1980s and early '90s, when crack was king, families fled Lower East Side neighborhoods for the safety of the suburbs, leaving behind dangerous streets and dilapidated buildings. Luna's novel tells the story of a colony of squatters, people priced out of the rental market, who stake claims on abandoned tenements in lower Manhattan.
These urban pioneers drive out the crackheads and set about to convert Thirteen House and Cat House into safe and respectable homes. They forage the city for building materials and make repairs themselves. They dumpster-dive for food and cook large community meals. They run a bike shop from a storefront and teach neighborhood kids bicycle repair. In short, the squatters create a community. Yet all the while the wolf lurks — Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the City of New York want to reclaim the real estate. Eviction notices, courtroom drama, threats to the squatters' safety and a showdown with barricades and tear gas all occur in the name of gentrification and it makes for terrific reading.
Along with these huge outside pressures, there are threats from within the community that include betrayal, lust, drug abuse, infertility, and violence. Yes, Luna uses a full arsenal of troubles to provide narrative thrust, to keep us turning the pages to discover not so much what happens, for history tells us that the City of New York wins, but how things go down. She also keeps readers interested by making us care about her ensemble of gritty characters:
Amelia, a teen runaway who appeared in the squat seven years earlier, was taken in by Gerrit, one of the leaders, and nursed through heroin withdrawal. Steve and Anne, a tender and childless couple who struggle with Steve's philandering and Anne's commitment to the community, live downstairs. Cat, a downtown legend who garnered fame for merely knowing famous people, is now the reluctant leader of Cat House. Her history and bad habits continue to dog her.
The pedestrian drama of Amelia's pregnancy, the question of paternity, which takes up too large a portion of the narrative, isn't nearly as interesting and fresh as the struggle between the squatters and the city. Additionally, the women in this novel allow their lives to be defined by outside influences, men and heroin. Amelia ultimately strikes out on her own but only because she's rejected by the man she thinks she loves. Cat stumbles back into her bad habits. Inertia and resignation relegate Anne to doormat status. Yes, all these action are plausible, but I yearned for one of the women to succeed on her own terms.
In a novel about place and home and community, it makes sense that New York City would be a character that looms large. The skyline as seen from the Brooklyn Bridge is described as "the fanged, glorious mouth of God." Anne, thinking of Steve and the early days of her marriage says "his chest was as broad and as deep as the city's skyline." While these descriptions lean toward sentimental, there are plenty of lovely and clear-eyed passages. The book's most beautiful moments come when Luna describes the city she once called home.
Walking over crack vials on the sidewalks is described as "crunchy like cutting a fresh path through old snow." Of the city in the rain she writes, "The cars glide along, their taillights stretched out behind them, staining the streets red. They are anonymous and remote, unconcerned animals." Her words are especially powerful and lovely when she eulogizes the once vibrant street life of lower Manhattan:
"No more slow-smile leatherboys with unironic tattoos. No more bearded communist daddies with soft bellies and hard eyes. Good-bye to the forgotten guitar-genius with thin-armed jangling walk and his rock'n'roll banter in his claustrophobic top-floor studio. Good-bye to the aging actor with his whispered Buddhist chants, perched on a stool day after day in the caged basement vestibule of his subterranean St. Mark's castle. Good-bye to the miraculously middle aged junkie with her sweet nodding head and her needled arms. Money's pushing into the lower east side. All consuming consumer-class. Into the river, freaks and artists."
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. - Natalie Serber 

THE RESIDENTS of Thirteen House don't pee in buckets. They don't sleep in sleeping bags. And they're definitely not drug addicts.
"Call them squatters, fine, but homesteading's what this is really about," explains a character in Cari Luna's great new novel. Set on the Lower East Side in the mid-1990s, The Revolution of Every Day centers on Thirteen House, a city-owned property that has functioned as a squat for more than a decade.
As the novel opens, the residents of Thirteen House are rebuilding a staircase. It's a pointed intro: These people, we're meant to understand, haven't merely taken up residence in some old, crumbling building. They've cared for it, done the hard work, put in hours of labor to maintain the home and community they've built.
The Revolution of Every Day focuses on a few residents of Thirteen House, friends and partners and adulterous lovers; their personal lives unfold against efforts by the city, after years of neglect, to reclaim ownership of Thirteen House and turn the land over for development.
The novel's central character is a young woman named Amelia. She came to the house when she was 16 and a junkie, living on the streets; she was taken in by one of the squat's more radical members, Gerrit, who helped her get clean. But his kindness soon curdles into a lopsided relationship that leaves Amelia dependent on Gerrit even as she resents his physical attention. Seven years later, when she becomes pregnant by another resident at Thirteen House, it forces long-simmering issues between the pair to a head.
The novel's shifting perspectives allow us to see things about the characters that they themselves aren't aware of. Amelia is so attentive to Gerrit that she can read his moods through "a subtle language of doors and windows and furniture," knowing that a slammed door means "come pay attention to me." It's only when we see Amelia through the eyes of the other female characters—they worry that she's too timid, childlike—that we think to question the power dynamic that she takes for granted.
One of the things Luna does subtly but well is draw characters who aren't defined by the way they live. This isn't some monolithic mass of angry squatters, determined to destroy the very concept of private property. Sure, some of 'em are like that, but more are substitute teachers, or repairmen, or market vendors, people at various points in their lives, from a range of backgrounds, just trying to continue to live in the place they know as home.
Luna is a longtime New Yorker who moved to Portland after realizing she couldn't afford to raise a family in New York; she wrote an essay about it for Salon in September. Being priced out of one's home is by no means a problem exclusive to New York City. Portland offers plenty of its own examples, from the massive displacement of African American families from inner Portland in the early 2000s to longtime punk and artists' houses whose landlords decided to sell once property values skyrocketed. There's a tendency to prioritize some narratives of displacement over others—we feel more sympathy for the low-income black family that has to move to Gresham than for the middle-class white woman who has to move out of Brooklyn. Revolution's squatters, kicked out of a building they lived in rent free but reclaimed from ruin, play on the sympathies in a more complex way still. But 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. - 

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