Imagine how it was for a single woman in New York City during World War II. When Peggy was twenty-one, in 1942, I was nine. I would have done her no good. Except for those with flat feet, punctured eardrums or bone spurs, eligible men were joining up or being drafted. Uniforms filled Times Square. Headlines were thick and ominous. Mortality hung over relationships. While I was collecting tin foil to win the war in the only way I knew how Peggy was living in Greenwich Village looking for Mr. Right against a background of distant conflict, yet close.
This is the setting for her novel, Morning in the Long Night City. In prose which rises to the level of poetry on many pages she paints a canvas of Manhattan during the war years revealing both the daily outer scene as well as the inner landscape of her characters. Her writing brings to mind Virginia Woolf’s, Mrs. Dalloway, with inner dialog and full dimensionality.
Her language is felt; the yearnings, uncertainties and dread as well as the small triumphs of love and spirit. Her eyes are open to small gestures and nuance and how the existential threat abroad impinges on a young woman’s maturation and assertion of her own creative process.
Within the narrative is the beginning of a blank-verse play written by Rachel, the main character, which dares to imagine a meeting of two real-life female renaissance painters and Lorenzo di Medici. We are treated to her rendering of how it might have been for women in an early time struggling for their place among the Masters.
Peggy is still in her prime approaching ninety-eight. Her spirit still ripe. I am witness to daily creative bursts not only in her poems but in her being. The transition from poetry to fiction is not an easy one. It requires a sustained effort of an imaginative muscle to enter into the voice and psyche of multiple characters. This book was conceived in the 1970s and completed a decade later. It is the first of three novels along with a children’s album, over a hundred Joseph Cornell-like collages and literally thousands of poems.
Morning in the Long Night City is her own morning, her dawning out of dark and troubled times which have been largely forgotten or unknown to most of us. This is a book about a period of privation overcome by an irrepressible life force, still incandescent.
Peggy will be reading excerpts from her book at Beyond Baroque in Venice, CA. on March 2nd at 5 P.M.