Review - Liminal by Natasha Alvarez
I study anarchist fiction. I read fiction that anarchists write and I read what other people write about what anarchists do. And in all that time, I can’t say I’ve read anarchist fiction that’s more deeply engaged and poetic than Liminal, a novella published by Black and Green Press.
To be honest, I’m cynical about activist fiction (or whatever you want to call it when people hoping to transform the world write fiction). I’m cynical for a bunch of reasons (most of which I learned by interviewing people who are much smarter than me). For one thing, fiction is generally more adept at asking questions than it is at providing answers. For another thing, writing fiction is really fucking hard to do well, and most anarchists and radicals and activists just haven’t put in the work required to create beautiful, compelling narratives.
That’s definitely not a problem that Alvarez has. Her prose is florid without turning purple, and it’s evocative as hell. It could have used another proofreading pass, but couldn’t everything?
Regardless of what you think of the specific strategy and tactics endorsed in the book, Liminal stands on its own as literature. It shows us the emotional stress—and emotional strength—of a committed eco-warrior. It’s a heartbreaking love story and it captures the finest side of family.
As is my habit with books, I read the story first before I read the introductory matter—the foreword by anarcho-primtivist Kevin Tucker and the introduction by the author. I’d suggest any reader do the same, though both are worth reading afterwards to get the full grasp of the story that’s told. The book is bittersweet and full of love and happiness. The introduction reveals that the story came out of—and in many ways, is a journal of—depression and mourning. This adds important character to the narrative—the happiness depicted is a desperate happiness, a striving for happiness. It’s the kind of happiness that teeters on a knife’s edge with sorrow on one side and misery on the other.
Tucker’s introduction is simple and compelling, and in the first few paragraphs he manages to express something I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around for years:
Revolutionaries are ideologues.
Indigenous struggles are not about ideas, they are about what is already known. Community, wildness, existence; these aren’t ideas. They’re not notions that we won’t understand until after some revolution. They’re not ideas that are separate from our being.
My fear of spoiling the book for you prevents me from getting into critique of the political strategy and tactics discussed in Liminal, and frankly I feel off the hook. There’s no reason my opinions on the matter should influence your own. But I suppose it’s worth noting that my wholehearted endorsement of Liminal as anarchist literature doesn’t translate to wholehearted endorsement of what the characters in the book get up to.
And damn, that last, poetic line of the book. That’ll sit weird in your brain for awhile.