The figure of the fugitive woman radical has occupied a curiously important place in the American popular imagination. Early depictions of women whose political sympathies have drawn them into radical activism and terrorist plots include Susan Isaacson in E. L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel (1971) and Marge Piercy’s eponymous heroine in her novel Vida (1979). Fictional characters loosely based on such activist-fugitives as Bernardine Dohrn abound in more recent works as well. Meredith “Merry” Levov, in Philip Roth’s American Pastoral (1997), is no doubt the best known, but radical activist women similarly on the lam include Marin Douglas in Joan Didion’s A Book of Common Prayer (1977). Alice Mellings in Doris Lessing’s The Good Terrorist (1977), Jenny Shimada in Susan Choi’s American Woman (2003), Anna Xenos (nom de guerre Dial) in Peter Carey’s His Illegal Self (2008), Reno in Rachel Kushner’s recent The Flamethrowers (2013), and others. The figure of what Robin Morgan terms the “token terrorist” seems to have survived her immediate political moment and continues to resonate within the American imaginary of a “postpolitical” age. Against the backdrop of recurring contemporary fears about “domestic terrorism” and taking as my primary example Russell Banks’s The Darling (2004), this essay considers the recurrent fictions of the radical woman terrorist and fugitive within the horizon of the eclipse of radical activism and the rise of anxieties accompanying the resurgence of terrorism.
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Arthur Redding; Darlings of the Weather Underground: Political Desire and Fictions of Radical Women. the minnesota review 1 May 2018; 2018 (90): 70–88. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00265667-4391524
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