Thirty Years Hence

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Thought-provoking, emotive, and sometimes deeply uncomfortable, Denise Beck-Clark’s Thirty Years Hence offers a meditative exploration of life and living from the perspectives of a disparate group of damaged individuals who orbit around each other in the New York City of 1973 as they all attempt to understand their past and determine their place in the present.

After a troubled childhood led to an equally troubled period at college during which she spent far too much time on drink and drugs and far too little on studying, Michelle Cooper did her best to retreat from the world, deliberately distancing herself from friends and eschewing ambition in favor of a dingy Upper West Side studio apartment. “Sixteen years of schooling and she was still ignorant about the most crucial subject: how to fill her days and nights and make them meaningful while also earning a living.”

Michelle spends her days working as a bookkeeper in the oppressive basement office of a bookstore owned by Murray Wolfe, while she spends her nights haunting neighborhood bars and pursuing random encounters with ill-chosen men. It seems like her life has reached a dead-end at the grand old age of twenty-three. However, Michelle is shaken from her near-terminal state of ennui when Murray introduces her to his cousin, forty-something-year-old Holocaust survivor Ida Birnbaum.

The pair have actually briefly met before, when Michelle spotted Ida shoplifting in Bendel’s department store, although she doesn’t let on about it to Murray, which helps create an instant bond between her and Ida. The two end up spending a day together, meeting up with Michelle’s good-natured friend Theo Gafoor, a recent immigrant from Guyana. Through Theo, they learn about Call and Pray, a prayer-based telephone therapy service run by Charles Wentworth, another Holocaust survivor.

The ideas of therapy and recovery are central to the stories of both Michelle and Ida, and Beck-Clark makes it clear that they are both, in their own ways, seeking help with their trauma, however self-destructive their behavior might initially seem. The two women might have survived their past experiences, but they are not truly living. Michelle doesn’t seem to feel rooted in the world, while Ida seems positively weighed down by the fact she’s still in it. The guilt of having survived Auschwitz when so many others didn’t eat away at Ida, pushing her toward ever more risky behavior.

After a terrible night brings them both to rock bottom, Michelle and Ida turn to Call and Pray for help, eventually deciding to participate in Charles’ latest therapeutic endeavor: the Rogen Treatment Program, which entails a series of exacting treatments intended to shock them into overcoming their troubles. This decision will have life-changing, life-affirming, and sometimes mind-boggling consequences for them and many of those around them.

Thirty Years Hence is a powerful and heart-rending story of survival, acceptance, and belonging. Beck-Clark goes a great job of tackling weighty topics in a way that inspires introspection without detracting from the narrative flow. She also does extremely well in recreating the New York of the early 1970s, including all the sights, sounds, dreams, and despairs. Given the exploration of trauma, it might not always be a comfortable read, but it is an important one.

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Star Count 4.5/5
Format Trade
Page Count 384 pages
Publisher First Edition Design
Publish Date 05-Oct-2021
ISBN 9781506904535 Buy this Book
Issue May 2022
Category Modern Literature