A Novel by Wesley Brown
Introduction by Katherine Ann Power
As the turbulent Sixties draw to a close, NYC police raid the headquarters of Push Comes to Shove—a group of activists, dreamers, and lovers based in a gritty tenement in Lower Manhattan—and kill Walter Armstead with a shotgun blast to the face. Was he an innocent victim of brutal times? Police collaborator? Or both? His death triggers a series of violent reprisals from extremists in the group, from a subway bombing to kidnappings to a showdown in the Black Hills of South Dakota.With this wild, resonant novel, Brown vividly captures the hopes and delusions of Vietnam-era America.
“A brilliant, eye-opening novel.”
– More Magazine
“Push Come to Shove brings us back to a time when the stakes were high, the world was dangerous, and everything mattered—perhaps too much.”
– Mary Gordon
“Propels its readers into the politically and culturally turbulent world of the American 1960s and ‘70s.”
– Washington Post
“Opens a door to the world of the black liberation movement at a critical moment in American history.”
“There is a gaping hole in fiction about the 60’s, which focuses almost exclusively on the white New Left. Brown has filled it admirably with his thoughtful, gripping novel about the black liberation movement.”
– Peter Biskind
On Push Comes to Shove
By Katherine Ann Power
We all live at the intersection of our individual story with the history of our times. In ordinary times, perhaps, this intersection may not be at the center of our attention. But the years 1969 to 1975, the setting for Push Comes to Shove, were not ordinary times. Like many of us then, the characters here try to make sense and pick their way through to the right life, to answer the question, How should I live?
Some, like the story’s historian, Raymond, try to stand outside of the intersection, to watch and document. Others, like the midwife, Khadijah, try to step outside of history entirely and make a life that deals with only the most elemental and timeless of human experiences. Inevitably, the charismatic figure capable of sudden cruelty arises. Theo seduces with his zeal, a convert from rebellious loser to passionate militant. He places himself at the center of the world, betraying, manipulating, and finally leading a nihilistic band from zombie-like collectivism to martyrdom.
Muriel, driven by compassion and a need for the warm embrace of a political movement, arrives at a politics of rage, abandoning the possibility of building up and convinced that the only possible course is to tear down, stepping into the violent rhetoric of war against the police. When it explodes, quite literally, in her face, she is left to find her balance at that moment of the history of those times and her own narrative.
Like Muriel, I identified with the pain that I saw in the world around me. I saw that, as in Muriel’s words, “the world tips in favor of the few,” and at nineteen, I had determined to commit my life to “balancing things more fairly.” On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. On June 5, 1968, Robert Kennedy was assassinated. On July 25, 1968, Pope Paul VI declared the Catholic Church’s unrelenting opposition to birth control.
In four months over one spring and summer, the familiar levers of change—peaceful demonstration, electoral politics—had been destroyed, and the institution that had grounded my values and ethics had shown that it had no place for me.
On December 4, 1969, Chicago police murdered the activist Fred Hampton in his bed. In May of 1970 the Viet Nam war expanded with the bombing of Cambodia, and protesting students were shot and killed at Kent State and Jackson State. By September, I was a self-proclaimed revolutionary charged with the murder of a policeman.
There were bands of revolutionaries everywhere in those years, and a bombing somewhere in America every day. We thought we were making history. But just as surely, history was making us.
– May 2011