Marge Piercy’s Vida is in many ways Meridians twin. This novel also bears the name of its main character—a political activist—as its title, it also returns to the early New Left as the true moment of personal politics, and it also highlights questions of female subjectivity and agency through an engagement with 1960s radical history. Furthermore, in Vida as in Meridian the personal costs of an activist life lived outside the structures and securities of mainstream politics are dramatised in particularly forceful ways. 1
Vida revises the history of the white New Left, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and its aftermath the Weather Underground, in the way that Meridian draws on and rewrites the history of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). But whereas in Meridian it is hysteria which provides a useful interpretive grid for Walker’s sexual/textual politics, in Vida paranoia is the dominant metaphor in a tale of flight, persecution and disintegration of public and private life.
Despite their many thematic and political similarities, Vida and Meridian are very different novels. In contrast with Walker’s cut-up spiritual realism, Piercy’s mode of representation is ostensibly more conventional. It sets great store by detailed descriptions of the exigencies of everyday life, and punc-tuates a fast-moving narrative with dialogue where the ideas upon which the novel is constructed are themselves debated. The latter strategy in particular creates the impression that the novel is self-explanatory, that its meanings are transparent; Vida, like most of Piercy’s work, wears its ideological colours on its sleeve. But there is rather more to Vida than simply the story of a woman activist’s journey through the American 1960s and 1970s—good though that story is as a role-reversed picaresque. 2Vida interrogates and rewrites radical history as it explores the origins of feminism in the New Left. It also projects—paradoxically, in what is on the whole a grim tale of bare survival—a strong Utopian vision of a transformed world in a sub-text of fantasy and desire which acts as a counterpoint to the surface narrative of flight and persecution. As a paranoid text, one which not only thematises the psychic reality of vigilance, subterfuge and hyper-consciousness, but