Stacey Wakefield has crafted a novel of historical fiction, set in a Brooklyn Squat in the mid 1990’s. Our protagonist, Sid, is basically a 20-something rover hanging out with the punk-anarchist crowd, looking for a squat to live in. The problem is, the Manhattan squats are all full by this point, and since this is the era when the price of East Village real estate went up, there aren’t any more abandoned buildings to squat in. So she goes for the next available spot, in this case, Williamsburg.
If you expect a novel about booze, drugs, and partying, you won’t find it here. This novel is in the realm of Ash Thayer’s Kill City, and much of it is spent renovating, hauling debris, getting water, etc. Though most third-wave feminists probably won’t agree, this novel does more for women’s lib then a whole lot of activists. Think of it as a book about a woman doing everything on her own; no money from home, and no getting by on her looks. She’s not in the kind of life where looking pretty is an asset, and her part-time job doesn’t require a cute girl.
I consider this book a cross between Little House on the Prairie and Home Girl. As with the former, Sid is a homesteader, trying to make a home out on a frontier. As with Home Girl, Sid is a woman in a harsh part of town. But unlike Judith Maitloff’s book, Sid doesn’t have to contend with as much crime as she would in Hamilton Heights. For those of you that read The Last Bohemia, you’ll see that Williamsburg, an industrial area, had less crime because fewer people lived there. Soho was like that in its early days too. I guess it’s easier to live in an industrial area than a poor one.
Stacey Wakefield’s previous effort was Not For Rent, consisting of interviews with squatters in several cities, including London, England. Unfortunately, the days of the city squatters in New York are over. There are no more abandoned spaces, thanks to rising values. If you want to squat, you might as well try Philadelphia, Camden, and Detroit, all of which are full of abandoned blocks. But you’d have to contend with dangerous neighbors in those cities.