A Review of In Motion
In Motion by Andy Piascik
2016, Sunshine Publishers, 298 pages
Review by Eleanor J. Bader
When coming of age takes place at the intersection of first love and first activist experience, the inevitable personal transformation is both exciting and all-consuming.
Jacqueline Gendron and Jack Simmons had not seen one another since they were kids, but when they run into one another as young adults, sparks fly. Their mutual attraction, and the subsequent romance that develops, is the centerpiece of Andy Piascik’s intense first novel, In Motion. What’s more, movement, as both noun and verb, is at the crux of this unusual love story.
To wit: It is 1976 and Jackie is about to graduate from high school. At the end of the summer she intends to leave the industrial Connecticut city where she was raised and head to Manhattan. Her dream is to become a writer and she is slated to enroll in New York University in the Fall. Jack, on the other hand, graduated from high school a year earlier and has been working two jobs ever since—toiling in a metal plant and shelving books in the public library—to help support his family. Still, like Jackie, he plans to move away and attend New Hampshire’s Keene State University in September.
Their unfolding relationship is not only passion-filled, but also involves a meeting of minds as each of them is bursting with enthusiasm for workers’ rights, women’s equality, racial justice, and peace. Indeed, the newly-radicalized duo plans to attend that summer’s Counter Bicentennial demonstration in Philadelphia to protest the continued colonization of Puerto Rico and imperialism, in general.
Jack’s political involvement came directly from his day-to-day experience on the factory floor. As blatant racism and conflicts with management arose, it became obvious to him that rank-and-file unionism was necessary. Then, as he began to stand up for himself and others, he met people active in an array of struggles and it did not take long for him to connect the dots linking the labor movement to anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-capitalist efforts.
For her part, Jackie’s involvement began differently. As a child growing up in a liberal, upper-class family, she attended private schools and did not have firsthand knowledge of workplace pressures or deprivation. Sheltered and pampered, she did not interact—or even really notice—poor people until she was in 12th grade. At that point, an oral history project brought her into contact with her less privileged neighbors and she vowed to do something about the disparities she’d witnessed.
Luckily for Jackie, her older sister, Susan, a progressive journalist, teacher and organizer, was ready with books, pamphlets, and a roster of meetings to help her move from impulse to action. It doesn’t take long for Jackie to become completely immersed in the left and her youth, energy, idealism, and commitment are welcomed by the more-seasoned allies she encounters. Indeed, by the time she and Jack get together they are almost giddy at the prospect of inevitable, imminent, social change.
Their exuberance is endearing—especially for those of us who’ve been battered and bruised by the obstacles and derailments that too often cause campaigns to fail. For the moment, suffice it to say that the fledgling activists are not the least bit overwrought by the magnitude of the world’s problems. In fact, despite the enormous number of issues vying for their attention—the book touches upon arson for profit; racism; sexual violence; the availability of cheap heroin; drug overdoses; eating disorders; police brutality; disaffected youth; and segregation, among other topics—the young lovers remain upbeat and undaunted. Similarly, they’re unfazed by personal issues, whether conflicts between parents and children; sibling rivalries; or missed opportunities to connect with friends.
And this leads to my quibble with the novel. Although I highly recommend it as an entertaining trip down memory lane for readers who can remember 1976, Jackie and Jack are unrealistically mature for people their age. Their ability to talk freely about sex is particularly glaring. In addition, Piascik crams far too many issues into the book, and while his desire to paint an all-encompassing picture of a particular time and place is laudable, the book would have benefitted from eliminating some of the tangents—for example, a section in which a friend is detoxing from heroin addiction, and a physical fight between Jack and a kid he grew up with—could easily have been cut.
Nonetheless, In Motion provides a vivid glimpse of a world that no longer exists. At the same time, Jackie and Jack evince a remarkable and inspiring commitment to doing the hard work of organizing for progressive advancement. Their example is soothing balm for the burned out, cynical, and weary.
Eleanor J. Bader teaches English at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn. She is also an award-winning journalist and reviewer who writes for Truthout.org, Lilith Magazine, Theasy.com, and Rewire.News.