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The Revolution of Every Day

Winner of the 2015 Oregon Book Award for Fiction

In the midnineties, New York’s Lower East Side contained a city within its shadows: a community of squatters who staked their claims on abandoned tenements and lived and worked within their own parameters, accountable to no one but each other. On May 30, 1995, the NYPD rolled an armored tank down East Thirteenth Street and hundreds of police officers in riot gear mobilized to evict a few dozen squatters from two buildings. With gritty prose and vivid descriptions, Cari Luna’s debut novel, The Revolution of Every Day, imagines the lives of five squatters from that time. But almost more threatening than the city lawyers and the private developers trying to evict them are the rifts within their community. Amelia, taken in by Gerrit as a teen runaway seven years earlier, is now pregnant by his best friend, Steve. Anne, married to Steve, is questioning her commitment to the squatter lifestyle. Cat, a fading legend of the downtown scene and unwitting leader of one of the squats, succumbs to heroin. The misunderstandings and assumptions, the secrets and the dissolution of the hope that originally bound these five threaten to destroy their homes as surely as the city’s battering rams. Amid this chaos, Amelia struggles with her ambivalence about becoming a mother while knowing that her pregnancy has given her fellow squatters a renewed purpose to their fight—securing the squats for the next generation. Told from multiple points of view, The Revolution of Every Day shows readers a life that few people, including the New Yorkers who passed the squats every day, know about or understand.
  • Page Count: 368
  • Direct Price: 12.75
  • List Price: 15.95
  • 5 x 7 3/4
  • October 2013
  • 978-1-935639-64-0
Format Price

Price as Configured $0.00

Cari Luna is the author of The Revolution of Every Day, which won the 2015 Oregon Book Award for Fiction. Her writing has appeared in Salon, Jacobin, Electric Literature, The Rumpus, PANK, and elsewhere. Cari lives in Portland, Oregon.


"Luna creates an array of complex characters caught up in emotions, relationships and situations far from the ordinary as they examine their commitment to their merged family and explore their own ideals and expectations. Enlightening and marked by inventive subject matter, intense reflection and stark eloquence."
Kirkus Reviews

"Luna portrays the thorny, complicated relationships among addicts and runaways in various stages of recovery with riveting passion and heartrending realism."

"Excellent debut novel. . .Her characters are deeply sympathetic and richly drawn, portrayed as struggling New Yorkers first, political outliers second."
LA Times Book Review

"The characters are superbly flawed, and Luna expertly leads us through their vastly different psyches and makes us understand them, even if we don't always sympathize. But just as much as it is a novel of characters, The Revolution of Every Day is the story of a city that's struggling with gentrification, as Cat puts it, "All the way back to the Dutch and the Indians, yeah?"
Bust Magazine (Five Stars)

"Luna shows how youthful dreams and a life lived just above the poverty line can ossify into something heart-breaking. "They've been so busy surviving they haven't noticed their lives hardening around them, fixing them into place," she writes about the oldest residents. "They are now all they're ever going to be." In the end, the novel examines how years of fighting for what you believe in both devastates and transforms, as each of these characters struggles to find a place to call home."
O, The Oprah Magazine, Book of the Week

"[A] juicy read, filled with secret trysts, unexpected pregnancies and mysterious personal histories . . . . Giuliani sent NYPD tanks (yes, they have tanks) into Alphabet City to oust the squatters who were responsible, at least in part, for making the neighborhood livable again, and while this is a fictional account, it truly takes you back to an earlier version of the same old New York struggle over class, space and the right to make a home for yourself in this city.
—Annaliese Griffin, Brooklyn Based

"The Revolution of Every Day is a novel that will not seem like a first. It feels evolved, it feels like it has been written with the tender, yet confident, and concentrated touch of someone who has done it many times before."
—Busking at the Seams

"Luna exposes us, with tenderness and eyes open wide, to the strange and vivid beauty of a time and place we may otherwise turn from. She provides us with a satisfying opportunity to explore a foreign world."
The OregonianThe Revolution of Every Day picked as one of the top 10 Northwest books of 2013!

"Luna skillfully ties the plight of Thirteen House and its profoundly human residents to the gentrification of the city as a whole, illustrating how someone can feel at once completely part of a city, and powerless against it."
The Portland Mercury

"In Cari Luna's debut novel, the hope, misunderstandings, and assumptions that bind five squatters living in New York City's Lower East Side during the mid-1990s threaten to unravel when developers and lawyers try to evict them from the abandoned dwellings."
—Education Week: Bookmarks

"Cari Luna's novel is as heroic as her until-now-unsung characters. Salvaging the abandoned and derelict, rooting life in what before was barren waste, Luna's urban homesteaders exhibit the same valiance as Luna the novelist: she has rescued recent, all-but-forgotten history from beneath the bulldozers of 'progress'; she has breathed new life into a lost world."
—Susan Choi, author of My Education

“Cari Luna shines a light in the dark corners of New York that most people don’t see. Her vivid portrayal of the squatters of Thirteenth Street and their fierce struggle to keep their community alive is an elegy for a city that no longer exists.”
—Elliott Holt, author of You Are One of Them

“Set in the dramatic world of the Lower East Side at the zenith of repeated waves of gentrification, The Revolution of Every Day manages to remain faithful to its own oceanic emotions. Much like the golden haze of an old photo, the novel evokes memory at its most transitory—inflected by hope, damaged by reality. Luna’s love for the New York of this time and its complexities shows through on every page.”
—Vanessa Veselka, author of Zazen

“Cari Luna’s The Revolution of Every Day is a bold, intrepid look into a world that when we are our lesser selves we would rather pass by than dwell in. But in this world, she finds devotion, loyalty, and, more eloquently, human relationships persisting in all their messiness, complexity, and glory. Like all great fiction, this novel will force us to reevaluate our perspective about the way things are and with more open hearts and minds consider how they ought to be; and by making us more tolerant, less provincial, and changing our mind-set, even if by degrees, it may make a difference when we reenter the vibrant but flawed society it portrays.”
—Ernesto Mestre-Reed, author of The Second Death of Unica Aveyano

"Cari Luna's beautiful, carefully rendered debut novel not only captures a specific moment in time in marvelous detail but also shows how our particular lives are moved by forces beyond us that we strive to understand and resist only at the greatest cost. A remarkable, unusual book."
—Emily Mitchell, author of The Last Summer of the World

"Cari Luna gets her hands dirty with her characters, digging deep and exposing vulnerable underbellies that some lesser writers might not dare explore. Masterful, precise, and utterly affecting, The Revolution of Every Day will change what you think about what makes a family, what makes a life, and how to love."
—Sara Shepard, author of Everything We Ever Wanted

"Cari Luna's beautifully written novel packs an emotional wallop for lifetime New Yorkers like me. I knew precious little about the Lower East Side squatters' movement while it was happening—my mistake. Luna makes a compelling case that flawed, wounded souls are often political visionaries. A major achievement."
—Susan Brownmiller, author of Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape


Thirteen House groans and creaks, shifting her bones, old ship in a storm. Not that Amelia’s ever been on a ship in a storm. Not that Amelia’s ever been on anything bigger than a rowboat. Well, the Staten Island Ferry that one time, but that hardly seems to count. 

“Wind’s picking up out there,” Steve says.

Amelia jams the chisel into the join where the stair tread and the riser meet and hits it with her hammer. The old wood gives a sigh, a puff of dust. She levers it up and Gerrit is there beside her with the crowbar to pry it out, the hundred-year-old nails giving the tread up easy.

“Wood rot,” he says, which is no surprise. She smells it every time she walks up the stairs; she feels it, the telltale bounce beneath her feet—signs of wood that wants to give way. 

They work from the top stair down, tossing the loosed treads to Steve. He’s got the sawhorses set up in the vestibule below; he’s got the orbital saw. He numbers the old treads with a grease pencil, measures them, cuts new ones from salvaged lumber. 

Anne comes through the front door, bringing a cold blast of air and the smell of rain. Her rumpled work clothes make her look old, tired. A kiss to Steve’s cheek and she squints up the staircase. “Those risers need to go, too.” And she’s right, Amelia knows. That’s the thing. Push or pull at any one part of the building and there’ll be six other things that want attention. And it’s not just the first flight of stairs that needs replacing—it’s all the stairs, from street level to the fifth floor. 

“Not enough lumber,” Amelia says. Because it’s about compromise. It’s about doing what they can, when they can.
“Ah,” Anne says. “Well, there you have it.”

Steve says, “We’ll make it work.” He seems careful with Anne these days.

Anne climbs the ladder they’ve raised to the second floor, throws a leg over the banister, her skirt riding up, thick thighs in pantyhose. Steve looks away, out the door, and they hear her feet on the stairs, up to the fourth floor to her and Steve’s place. A door opens and closes.

“So we’ll do as many flights as we can—treads and risers both—with the wood we’ve got. Then we’ll head out tonight and get some more, finish the job tomorrow,” he says.

“Just like that,” Gerrit says. 

“We’ll find more.” Steve switches the saw back on, the insistent hum of it kicking up sawdust as he goes hard against the wood. Amelia waits for him to look up at her, but he keeps his head down, his jaw set. 

“Godverdomme,” Gerrit mutters, digging into the next tread harder than necessary. 
“Grumpy old bastard,” she whispers, and he grins. 

Soon enough she and Gerrit have the treads and risers all pulled off, the naked frame of the staircase rising up sad and open. It’s like revealing the secrets of the house, uncovering some century-old shame, this undressing that they do. They are like doctors over a patient’s body; not judging, just seeing with clear eyes, fixing what can be fixed. She feels bad for the old girl. It seems they’ll never reach the point where everything’s done that needs doing. Moving from one repair to another, even after all these years.

Steve measures and cuts the last stair and riser. He and Gerrit take up their hammers, working together in that easy wordless way of theirs, the staircase coming back together just like that.

Gerrit leans into the worn couch, watching the girls cook dinner in the community-room kitchen. The community room takes up the street-side half of the unfinished basement: cast-off chairs and a musty couch, a board-and-cinder-block bookcase, an open kitchen with a hulking old fridge and scarred counters. Amelia and Kim and Suzie are at the stove, stirring pots and chopping vegetables. Kim ladles up a spoonful of something and offers it to Amelia for a taste.

He and Steve and Amelia finished three flights of stairs today, treads and risers, just like Anne wanted. They’d been hoarding the wood for months. They brought it home piece by piece, board by board, until they had enough to replace the treads on all five flights. Today Steve wanted to please his wife, but now it falls to Gerrit to go out into the rain with him to try to find enough lumber to finish the job. For all Steve’s talk, there’s no guarantee they’ll find so much as a single board. This is Manhattan. It’s not like they can go outside and cut down trees. Not like they can drive to a hardware store and lay a credit card down, either.
They’ve got the Velvet Underground playing. “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’.” It’s Amelia’s favorite song. He reaches over and turns it up and she favors him with a small, sweet smile.
Gideon hands Gerrit a beer and drops down next to him, the couch sighing with the weight. “Long day?” Gideon says.
“You wouldn’t happen to have twelve two-by-fours to spare?” Gideon lives next door in Cat House. The two squats share tools and materials all the time, and Gerrit knows as well as Gideon they don’t have that much lumber to spare. Twelve boards is a wealth of wood.
Gideon just laughs.

Rain beats against the metal hatch doors that lie flush with the sidewalk. Inside it’s warm and smells of curry and garlic. Gerrit has a beer in his hand; there’s music playing and the high sweet chatter of the girls over by the stove. Steve comes down the basement stairs and past the kitchen. Amelia pulls at his wrist, leaning toward him to whisper into his ear. She's probably trying to get him to eat before he goes out. She's always pushing food on people, always worried they aren't eating enough. Echoes, no doubt, of her own hungry days. He feels that old familiar affection for her rise up, the waif she'd been when she first came to Thirteen House.
Gerrit doesn’t want to leave this to go on a futile search for lumber, but here comes Steve now, red-faced and blustering across the community room toward Gerrit. He supposes there is something heroic about being the ones to head out into a storm to hunt for what’s needed, and Steve rarely asks for much. Of course Gerrit is going. 
“Let’s go,” Steve says. “I borrowed Jeremy’s van. Ben’s coming, too. He’s bringing the van around front now.”
“Don’t you want to eat first?”
He glances at the girls. “Anne and I ate already.”
“It’s early to be heading out.”
“Rain like this? No one’s gonna be watching to see who’s climbing into any dumpsters. We’re good.”
Gerrit walks into the kitchen and kisses the back of Amelia’s neck, goose bumps rising along her bare forearms as she ducks away with a smile. He follows Steve up the stairs, easing into his coat, and out into the rain to search for wood.


Amelia warms her hands on her bowl of curried lentils, leaning against the counter where Kim sits kicking her legs. The lentils smell good, earthy and familiar. She swirls her spoon in the bowl, watching the curry seep into the rice. She loves these Wednesday night dinners when they open up the community room and make food for anyone who's hungry. “We should cook together like this every night,” she says. “I don't know why we don't."

It’s been quiet so far tonight, though. A couple of crusty punks came by a little while ago, ate their food, and left. Some guys stopped in on their way to trying to get beds for the night at the Bowery Mission. Now it’s just Kim and Gideon from Cat House, and Amelia and Suzie and Marlowe the only ones from Thirteen House. Well, and Gerrit was here and Steve came in for a minute, but he didn’t stay to eat. He usually does. 

She’d grabbed Steve’s hand, hoping to lead him out of sight, behind the kitchen wall into the storage area, the dark corner back by the tool cabinet. She’d wanted a kiss, or a touch, some acknowledgement. Anything. He shook off her hand. He moved right past her. 

Tonight she wants the room to be full to overflowing. She wants there to be enough noise to drown out all the shit going on in her head. She wants to hear laughter; she wants the music blasting. She wants it so crowded people have no choice but to touch each other, even the ones they don’t know. 

She knows people have their own lives, their own things to do. It’s a squat, not a commune. But still, some Wednesdays it seems they’re all down there together, everyone from Thirteen House and everyone from Cat House, squatters from Maus Haus and Utopia, kids from the park, and a steady stream of the homeless. In summer they all spill out onto the sidewalk like a party. Those nights are the best. Those nights she could believe lentils and rice are the best damn thing she ever ate.

“You think Anne’ll come down?" Amelia says. "Maybe I should take a bowl up to her."

"She knows we're here," Suzie says.

There’s a fear rising in Amelia, something she’s been swallowing down for days. She doesn’t want to speak it, saying it giving it a power, making it true. She leans against Kim’s legs and Kim pets her hair while she talks to Suzie and has no idea of all the things Amelia isn’t saying. My period is late, she would say. And Kim and

Suzie would smile and say, Well that’s no big thing. It’ll come. But maybe it won’t. And even so, that’s only a part of it. 

Denise comes down the stairs and into the kitchen, rain in her hair, rain on her glasses. She puts her arms around Suzie’s waist and kisses her softly.

Suzie rubs her cheek against Denise’s shoulder. “Are you hungry?” she asks, even as she’s already turning to the stove to spoon out the lentils. She presses a bowl into Denise’s hands and stands close and watches her eat. They speak quietly about their day, leaning in to each other, the rest of the room fallen away.

The envy rising in Amelia is ugly and tired. She walks over to the couch, sinks down next to Gideon, and takes a long pull off his beer. She nestles in under his arm and closes her eyes. The voices and the music, Gideon’s warmth. She lets herself drift.


The wipers drag greasy smears across the windshield. The Con Ed clock tower could be a church spire; the Empire State building, lit up all green and gold, could be Oz. Steve swings the van onto Fourteenth Street, heading west. He spotted a dumpster on Fourteenth and Third yesterday—a gut renovation of an old tenement. Five stories’ worth of wood gotta come out of that place. There’s bound to be enough.

“Look at that fucking rain,” Ben says. He leans in from the backseat, his face hanging between Gerrit and Steve.

Steve loves a good hard rain at night. It’s like the whole damn city gets washed clean. The people are hidden away and it’s quiet, quiet. The cars glide along, their taillights stretched out behind them, staining the streets red. They are anonymous and remote, unconcerned animals. It’s people you’ve got to watch out for and the rain flushes them away.

“Rain is good,” Gerrit says. “Fewer witnesses.”

Steve says, “I’m not expecting any trouble where we’re headed.” 

He’s hoping to get this done quickly so they can get back home. Anne was quiet all through dinner, quiet as he left. “I’m going to get that wood now,” he’d said to her. “We’ll replace the risers. You’re right about those risers.”

“Don’t forget you’ve got first watch tonight,” she’d said. 

“That’s all you’ve got to say?” He’d tried to say it with a smile. He’d tried to pull her in for a kiss but she’d moved past him, gone into the bathroom, the shower


Tin House Books: How did you come to write this novel?


Cari Luna: On the evening of July 4, 1995, I came across a boisterous crowd at the intersection of Thirteenth Street and Avenue A in Manhattan. Squatters who had been evicted from two buildings on that block back in May had retaken one of the buildings. The intersection was choked with people cheering the squatters on, and there were more cops than I’d ever seen in one place before. I saw something then that had never before occurred to me might be possible: I saw police officers—who before that point had only been symbols of safety and protection for me—looking for a fight, hoping someone would throw a bottle or a fist so they could react.


At twenty-one years old, I didn’t fully understand what I was seeing or what the squatters were fighting for. I’m sorry to say that at the time I wasn’t curious enough to find out. But the images of that night stayed with me. The squatters stayed with me. Ten years later, I found myself writing a novel set in the building I’d seen the squatters retake.


As I wrestled with the idea of home through my characters, it became important to me to understand my home—New York City—and how it had changed. The big question in my mind as I undertook the writing of this novel was “What the hell happened to New York?” The eviction of the Thirteenth Street squats seemed, to me, to mark the beginning of the end of the Lower East Side as it had been when I lived there; the point when money won. And so I set about trying to learn more about what I’d seen that night in 1995, what had been happening and why.



THB: Talk a little about the research you did for the book.


CL: I was lucky that the historical events that I used as inspiration for The Revolution of Every Day occurred just as the Internet was becoming more widely used. I was able to dig up primary-source materials like list-serv postings warning the Thirteenth Street squatters of their impending eviction. That helped immensely in terms of getting a feel for the mood on the ground, a sense of the way events were being talked about leading up to and immediately following the eviction. In addition to list-serv posts and newspaper articles from the time, I read several excellent books about Lower East Side squats and Lower East Side activism in general: War in the Neighborhood by Seth Tobocman, Glass House by Margaret Morton, and Resistance: A Radical Social and Political History of the Lower East Side, Clayton Patterson, editor.


Something I very deliberately did not do was interview people who had been involved with the squats. I was concerned that if I did I would feel beholden to those people’s specific experiences and would get bogged down in “how it really happened,” perhaps losing more universal truths in the process. This is a work of fiction, and I gave myself permission to treat it as such.

THB: The Revolution of Every Day has been described as an elegy for New York City. As a native New Yorker, how has your relationship with the city changed and how is this change reflected in novel?


CL: I was born in Manhattan in 1973 and spent the first five years of my life in Stuyvesant Town in the Lower East Side. When it was time for me to start kindergarten, my family moved to New Jersey. As a parent I now understand the choice—the public schools in our neighborhood were a nightmare, but my parents couldn’t afford nonreligious private schools, and they didn’t want to send their Jewish kids to Catholic school—but at the time, and for my entire subsequent suburban childhood, I let them know they’d made a terrible mistake when they took me and my brother out of the city.


In 1991, I made my way back to Manhattan: first to a boyfriend’s apartment on Eleventh between B and C, and later to my own tiny rent-controlled studio on St. Marks and First. I would argue that I returned to my ancestral home at the beginning of the end of the New York that I loved: the beginning of the end of the Lower East Side as a place that was accessible and open artistically, culturally, and politically. I moved into a neighborhood that challenged my middle-class, suburban notions of how a life was to be lived, a neighborhood that pushed me to rethink assumptions and habits. A neighborhood that made me uncomfortable in some very necessary ways, that forced me to think—for the first time—about race and class and privilege. In the time that I lived there, the neighborhood grew more and more gentrified, more and more comfortable and unchallenging for the returning suburban-raised kids of the parents who’d fled for the suburbs in the seventies. Out went that vital spark, the friction that created art and social change and political activism.


In 1999, I moved to Prospect Heights in Brooklyn because I couldn’t afford Manhattan rents anymore. By the time I sat down to write what would become The Revolution of Every Day in 2005 at the age of 32, the New York I’d loved was gone.


And so I began this novel as a love letter to my lost New York. Every generation of New Yorkers mourns the loss of their version of the city. The city is a living, changing thing. But the way it changed—the way it went over to money so completely—that felt new and drastic. And it felt personal. By the time I left for Portland in 2007, the novel had become a Dear John letter. And then, through writing and revising the book, I found my way back to the love letter it had initially been. But it’s a different kind of love now. I love New York the way I love an old boyfriend who betrayed me horribly, then died years after our last contact. Which is to say: with nostalgia, a warm fondness for the good times, lingering resentment, and a profound sense of loss.


THB: Do you think the Occupy Wall Street movement has increased New Yorkers’ awareness of the existence of squatters and their rights?


CL: I think OWS has heightened Americans’ awareness of and interest in radical politics in general. The camps ended up casting light on the issues of homelessness and housing rights, and many Occupy groups turned to activism related to the foreclosure crisis following the evictions of the camps. One of the favored protest tactics involves squatting foreclosed homes.


THB: Were there any positive outcomes you witnessed in the gentrification of the Lower East Side?


CL: Safety, maybe? It’s hard to say. In The Gentrification of the Mind, Sarah Schulman writes, “What is this thing that homogenizes complexity, difference, dynamic dialogic action for change and replaces it with sameness? With a kind of institutionalization of culture? With a lack of demand on the powers that be? With containment? My answer to that question always came back to the same concept: gentrification.”


The Lower East Side is now safer in terms of muggings, etc. in the post-gentrification era, but it’s also “safer” in that it’s culturally and politically less challenging. Without the friction there is no vibrancy, no life. The Lower East Side, once a hotbed of grassroots activism, has become suburbanized, homogenized. I don’t think that greater safety from crime—or greater perceived safety—is a worthwhile tradeoff for everything that was lost.


THB: Is there a lesson to be learned from The Revolution of Every Day? Can squatting be a successful enterprise or does its roots in anarchy doom it from the start?


CL: Not all squatting has its roots in anarchy. It’s hard to define success in terms of squats, because there isn’t one unified, agreed-upon goal. What I found in my research, and what I continue to learn through my volunteer work with the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space (located in C-Squat), is that each squatter had their own reasons for being there, some purely political, some purely personal. I’d venture to guess that for most it is a mix of the two. It doesn’t make for easy generalizations, though. This is by no means a homogeneous group or cohesive political movement.


In the documentary Captured, Jerry the Peddler, an activist squatter, says, “New York City squatters held more land longer than any other leftist group anywhere in the United States, and holding the land is what revolution is all about.” So in that sense, even the evicted squats were a success.


And there are eleven remaining squats, including C-Squat, which were sold to the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board for the symbolic price of one dollar in 2002. These buildings are in the process of being converted into low-income co-ops, owned by the squatters. So they are now or soon will be legal buildings. That is, no longer squats. This can be called success, or it can be said that now that the squatters are, themselves, landowners, they have become part of the system they fought against. It depends on perspective.