Thirty Years Hence
It’s New York City in 1973; however, the characters who inhabit Denise Beck-Clark’s most recent novel Thirty Years Hence are living more in the past than the present. Michelle Cooper, traumatized by her childhood and a college experience marked more by drug and alcohol consumption than education, wanders through a meaningless life without direction. Ida Birnbaum, a middle-aged Holocaust survivor that the younger Michelle befriends, is haunted by her terrible memories and dreams of the Holocaust.
Michelle abandons her college friends to live in a studio apartment on a dirty Upper West Side street. She takes a job as a bookkeeper in a basement office with poor ventilation and a ceiling crisscrossed with water pipes, which creates a stifling gas chamber-like atmosphere. She salves her psyche with random men she meets in bars, which results in a fateful meeting with a skinhead who begins stalking her. She first meets Ida when she sees her shoplifting at Bendel’s department store and then is later introduced to her by her boss. Ida, despite having raised a family, is likewise living on the edge due to her failure to reconcile the horrors inflicted on her during the Holocaust.
Central to the novel’s conflict and narrative is the mechanism by which Ida and Michelle cope with and attempt to overcome their pasts. Ida, as many survivors did in the 1970s, internalizes her trauma and memories of the Holocaust. She spins out of control one night and has a wild and destructive experience in the tawdry part of the city; the consequences of which cause her much grief. Michelle and Ida then turn to Charles, another Holocaust survivor who operates a dial-a-prayer service and has developed an experiential program that helps victims of trauma to recover. The results of the program alter Michelle and Ida’s lives forever.
The novel provides a wonderful sense of the New York City of the 1970’s. Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village, squalid six floor walk-ups and posh co-ops, streets crowded with hustlers and cabbies, all come to life. The bars Michelle frequents have characters right out of central casting. The reader becomes submerged in the sights, sounds, and smells of NYC. The novel’s plotlines are excellently weaved throughout, and the novel’s narrative moves ever forward, with several twists and turns maintaining the interest of the reader. The characters are fully developed as the reader gains a large measure of intimacy with them and identifies with their struggles and motivations. At the end of the day, Beck-Clark succeeds in spinning a true to life tale of Holocaust memory, trauma, and recovery, that is both sad and inspiring.
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