by Charles S. Isaacs
Into the Streets is set in Chicago in the late 1960s. Protests against The Vietnam War are reaching fever-pitch. In this cauldron of unrest, racial intolerance and injustice two young students, Steve and Cat, find each other. They are both emotionally damaged by traumatic past events and as tensions boil in the City, their anxieties and insecurities threaten to derail both their activism and their relationship.
I loved Into the Streets. I thought it was a well-constructed, considered novel that was engrossing and enjoyable to read. The last quarter of the book is tense, nail-biting stuff and I experienced that sense of loss when I ended that comes with finishing a really decent read. The backdrop to what is, essentially, a romance between Steve and Cat is their mutual antiwar and Civil Rights activism. It was interesting (and depressing) how fresh and relevant the majority of the issues surrounding The Vietnam War and Civil Rights Movement that underpin the narrative are today. The book is a long read and can, understandably, be quite political in parts. I think it was bold move not to dumb down the protest/antiwar rhetoric; it works alongside yet is integral to Steve and Cat’s relationship. This synergy is one reason the reader is transported to Chicago, 1968 rather than viewing it retrospectively. Another is the very natural, easy rhythm of Mr Isaacs’ writing. At the heart of the book, is a well-told romance whose simplicity belies a subtle depth of detail and personal experience. The light angst of Steve and Cat’s fledging romance gives contrast to the vicious brutality of the Vietnam War and the fact it’s narrated from Steve’s point of view again reinforces a sense of immediacy with the reader.
All the characters are well-observed, sometimes the minor ones more than the main. I occasionally found Cat a little one-dimensional and felt towards the end that the characterisation of Steve became a bit fractured; it mirrored his mental state but I wonder if there was a little too much subjectivity from the Author. As a couple, Steve and Cat could be frustratingly idealistic at times but viewed in context of their age and the era, this can be forgiven. Overall, there was a real sense of accompanying them on their journey; you invested in both as people and also in their romance; which had some lovely moments. I did feel the issue of Steve’s parentage was dealt with a little glibly, there is a life-changing revelation and I felt the undoubted emotional impact on the older Steve could have been explored further.
Notwithstanding, I think Mr Isaacs is a very good, instinctive story-teller whose enjoyment for his craft shines through. Into the Streets is a smart, original and very enjoyable read. Highly recommended. Buy from: