Harold and Artie are young Jews in 1930s New York when Harold decides to join the Communist Party. He attends a meeting with Artie who is taking photos of rallies to earn some money. Harold is fascinated with the struggles of the party, but Artie tells him not to sign up.
The book follows their lives from 1936 up to 2004, interlaced with political developments and their wives’ and children’s struggles.
The two men often argue. Artie is angry and likes to disagree. Harold doesn’t listen, and his party membership, dropped after a few years, comes back to haunt them both during a 1950s witch hunt.
The story also tracks their family lives. Both children of immigrants, they grow up poor, they worry about the news of the Jews in Europe. Artie marries a neighborhood girl and has to give up his photography when his daughters are born.
Harold marries and has children also, but remains unfaithful to his wife for years. When Harold loses his teaching job, his wife supports him while he gets his Ph.D. and he becomes a college professor. Artie loses his job because of Harold’s party membership and has to sell shoes until, years later, the schools rehire him.
The story then jumps ahead and follows their children and grandchildren, who in some ways act like Harold and Artie.
This is an interesting look at two men and their families. It is told in an unusual style – there are no quote marks used in the dialog — but the writing flows and it’s not difficult to read.
Mattison weaves the details of two personalities in with the changes occurring in 20th century America so that the reader gets a broad view and a detailed closeup at the same time. I enjoyed it.