When a storyline never advances past a vague idea, or you can’t decide which way exactly to take it, that’s a very strong sign it’s not meant to be. That was precisely what happened with my aborted storyline of the Konevs moving back to NYC in June 1952.
How did it fall apart, and why did I realize it? Let me count the ways.
1. They spend way more time talking about their exciting upcoming move, or in Ivan’s case resisting it, than actively planning it! Who the bloody hell commits to moving 1,000 miles away and enrolling in grad school without guaranteed housing lined up?
2. I kept going back and forth re: which neighborhood they should live in, and getting lost in rabbit holes of research. The West Village? The Upper West Side? Hamilton Heights? Morningside Heights? One of the districts within Victorian Flatbush? Staten Island?
3. Likewise with housing type. A penthouse? A luxury apartment? The mother-in-law suite in Katrin’s penthouse? A townhouse? A rowhouse? Sharing a townhouse with relatives? An estate in Victorian Flatbush?
4. I also kept going back and forth re: which schools everyone should attend. For the adults, should it be Columbia, City College, Brooklyn College, Columbia Teachers College, the Pratt Institute, NYU, Hunter, or Sarah Lawrence? For Sonyechka and Tamara, is Walden or New Lincoln a better fit?
5. Even if Lyuba sometimes said, well before this storyline, she wished the family still lived in New York, that wasn’t a true, active wish. Doesn’t everyone sometimes wonder about the path not taken? Deep down, she knows her life is in Minnesota now.
6. Speaking of, why would Tatyana and Nikolay uproot their six kids to move 1,000 miles away because they miss their friends? It’s like Plinio in Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game (his only novel I found a slog instead of a joy to read), whining to his former best friend Joseph Knecht about how they grew apart. This bothered him for 20 years?! Move on, dude!
You can never really go home again. People and places change, even if everyone’s still there and the cityscape is the same on the surface. We acquire different lifestyles as we age. Raising a family and working take priority over carefree fun.
7. It played right into the overly romanticized view of New York as the best of all possible cities, the only city worth anything.
8. Though it was rather subtle, the city was entering the first stages of its tragic decline in this era. Where would the Konevs go after the city began noticeably deteriorating?
9. The severe housing crisis created during the Depression only got worse after WWII. They would not have had first priority on one of the precious units available, and a detached house in the outer boroughs would’ve resulted in a long commute.
10. It felt like a preachy polemic about the superiority of urban apartment life over farm country and traditional houses.
11. It necessitated too many convenient plot twists and cluttery storylines justifying almost the entire Minnesota cast relocating en masse!
12. Everyone began talking like they were never really happy in Firebird Fields and couldn’t wait to wash their hands of farming. Despite the difficulties, they were so happy to finally be out of the congested city and have large houses, fresh air, clear skies, open spaces, and sunlight again!
13. Katya points out Lyuba substituted one daydream for another. Yes, it sucks that her life was turned upside-down by the Revolution, but in her early fifties, she can only do so much towards returning to the path her life otherwise would’ve taken. Who’s to say her New York life would automatically be so much more awesome the second time around?
14. Their New York friends and family have missed living close by, but never expressed such severe longing to be together again before! All of a sudden it’s a huge hardship and heartache.
15. Deep down, I couldn’t picture the Konevs as apartment people, even in a sprawling penthouse with two stories, a big terrace, great amenities, and a gorgeous courtyard. They only lived in communal housing when they had no choice.
16. Ditto living in a multi-story, fairly narrow townhouse sharing walls with other homes. Just not who they’ve ever been, despite staying in relatives’ townhouses when they visit.
17. Where would they put their dear horse Branimir, another Long Island stable?
18. On the flip side of the NYC lovefest was a Minnesota hatefest. Everyone talks like it’s a cultural and intellectual desert!
19. Can’t these people think outside the familiar? There’s no reason everyone needs to either stay in Minnesota or return to NYC if there’s truly a pressing need to move.
20. Though Nikolay resents how farming gave him an automatic draft exemption in WWII, he and Tatyana truly do love that simpler lifestyle.
21. The main plotlines of the future sixth book are based around Sonyechka and Tamara NOT living in the same city as their parents!
To be continued.