When Eli first meets Sam Westergard, he is dazzled by his new friend's charisma, energy, and determined passion. Both graduate students in New York City, the two young men bond over their idealism, their love of poetry, and their commitment to socialism, both in theory and in practice—this last taking the form of an organized protest against Soline, a giant energy company that has speculated away the jobs and savings of thousands. As an Occupy-like group begins to coalesce around him, Eli realizes that some of his fellow intellectuals are more deeply—and dangerously—devoted to the cause than others.
A fiercely intelligent, wonderfully human illustration of friendship, empathy, and suspicion in the midst of political upheaval, Ryan McIlvain's new novel confirms him as one of our most talented and distinctive writers at work today.
- Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Gr
- Date: Feb 2018
From the cover
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
Copyright © 2018 Ryan McIlvain
THE RADICALS by Ryan McIlvain
What was he doing in a graduate course in Marxist theory, anyway? He didn't look the part. He wore stretched-out polo shirts to class, old road-race T-shirts, an almost constant smile. He intrigued me. On the night Sam Westergard came to class in an oversize Roger Federer T-shirt, I rustled enough to pay him my compliments on it. "Hey, thanks," he said, with startling good cheer.
Pretty soon Sam and I were playing tennis together most Friday mornings and whenever else we could get away from the city and classes, the teaching, underpaid, the grading, underpaid, the life, underpaid. Tennis was a balm and a crucible all at once. We each wanted to win, obviously, very badly, but we also wanted to maintain the illusion that our "practice sets" were only that—a little practice, a lark, a pair of pale intellectuals disgracing the game with our play . . . It wasn't an easy false premise to keep up: The sweat started pouring off me usually in the first game, or else I'd notice Sam's jaw, strangely squarish for his face, jutting out like an old cash drawer after he sent a ball into the net or sailing long. I started calling him Lockjaw. Or Little Lockjaw—a reference to his tall, lordly stature. I probably didn't know Sam well enough to joke with him like this, not at first, but what else could I say? I couldn't have known I was standing across the net from a murderer, and neither could he.
"M or W?" I said one morning in April, the cruelest month, apparently. I had my Wilson Pro pinned, head down, to the grainy green of the court, the frame making its thin crackling music as I rotated the handle between thumb and forefingers, ready to spin it loose.
"No, no, no," Sam said, smiling at me. "Do the thing." He saw my face and said again, "Do the thing. From last time? The
one about the revolution—right, comrade?"
In the last few outings he'd started calling me comrade. I didn't know how to read it, or what he wanted from me now. His face was simple and expectant, eyes gray—neutral eyes. A little curl still hung around his light brown hair at the sides and bottom, but at the top, all wispy like smoke, all you saw was the sun on his broad forehead.
" 'Up with the revolution, down with capitalism'?" he said. "Wasn't it something like that?"
"Oh, yeah. Well, so you know it already."
The racket spun and clattered to rest, the white W of the Wilson logo pointing up. "Up with the revolution it is," I said.
"I forgot to call it," Sam said, looking guilty.
I let him serve first, suddenly impatient to be back at the baseline. Was I a performer to him, a bearded lady? I couldn't read his smile. We played to four–all in the first, all my slices coming back with interest. I'd noticed Sam was weak coming over his two-handed backhand, so I swallowed my pride and kept it high and to the ad side, looping the balls high over the net, Nadal-like, the yellow orbs rising and falling like suns. At the zenith of a shot you could see the ball freeze-framed against the Hoboken trees, tall beeches, and the power lines beyond, the rich brownstones with the wrought-iron balconies and the zigzag of fire escapes—the playground of the gentry, and we were crashing it. Anyway, we were graduate students, de facto experts in our contradictions: squeamish adjuncts, fake-casual athletes, complicated atheists. Sam was once a Mormon, he'd told me, and come to think of it he still looked the...