Book Review: The Change Chronicles

Book Review: The Change Chronicles

Let me say this up front. Paula Friedman is a friend of mine. And she has a new book out. Her previous novel, The Rescuer’s Path, was called “exciting, physically vivid, and romantic” by Ursula K. Le Guin, “humane and wise” by Cheryl Strayed, and “lyrically written” by Small Press Review. So, I wrote a review of it of her newest work, The Change Chronicles.

Nora, the main protagonist of The Change Chronicles by Paula Friedman, is a somewhat broken young woman whose fears and anxieties are debilitating, socially, sexually and emotionally. She is an activist in the 1960s peace movement against the Vietnam War.

Nora is as fragmented as the world she is living in. Like her fellow protesters stateside, she feels the war and its far-away atrocities personally. Though in the beginning they mostly come at her as guilt-laden thoughts. She struggles to justify her days of safety and relative quiet and the brief moments she allows herself to enjoy. She worries about being judgmental of others, but her self-judgement is the harshest as she attempts to make a difference in the protests and to stop the war. Her self-judgement is fueled by relationships, past and present, that are abusive or somehow broken.

But it is in love where her damaged self won't let her feel or move forward. She is too afraid to open up and let go, to just feel instead of analyzing every bit of minutiae. This is where Friedman’s writing is the strongest: taking the reader along in Nora’s head. Nora approaches clarity on several occasions, but backs away in the final moment, too afraid to commit or believe in herself.

Some of the other characters put out that ‘60s vibe as they speak of the protests and their attempts to get others to feel how wrong the war is. The police and government reflect their era, but they are peripheral to Nora’s tale, less villains than facts of life. In the end, Nora is just as much the villain as she is the hero in her own story. First and foremost, she has to overcome herself.

She gets some help along the way from the child she is carrying. Learning to love it helps her love herself. As the war protests continue and grow larger, along with Nora’s own pregnancy, so does her confidence in herself. She also gets help from two men who help to empower her—Len and Ri. Clarity slowly comes to her world and thinking, and with it independence and a sense of purpose that seems more clearly defined.

Through perseverance and a desire to be more open to the world—less a prisoner of her own past and the preconceived notions and baggage created by her abusive and failed relationships—Nora learns she can find what she seeks by first trusting and believing in herself. Despite these changes, Nora is still a woman of her time. She gives her child up for adoption, believing it impossible for a woman to be a single parent. (The women’s liberation movement—second-wave feminism in the U.S.—was just beginning to explode in the late ‘60s.) But even that act, giving her child up for adoption, helps her become more independent and comfortable with who she is and to handle her own responsibilities.

Ultimately, The Change Chronicles is a tale of growth by a woman who has learned to overcome failed and abusive relationships and her own fears in late-‘60s America. It’s an insightful look into the mind of a victim who overcomes and moves forward. Friedman gives us a glimpse into the life of a young woman who seeks peace in the Vietnam War and within herself. As someone on the fringe of the counter-culture movement, and at the heart of the protests against the war, Nora loses her fears to become an independent force—in her own life and that of others.

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