OLGA DIES DREAMING
By Xochitl Gonzalez
What is the American dream these days, anyway? The term, as coined in 1931 by James Truslow Adams, described an idealistic view of the United States as a true meritocracy, where opportunities were equally available to all. Ninety years and a lot of systemic racism and widening class divisions later, we have good reason to take a more blind eye on the concepts of opportunity and equality in this country, and, being Since even the most enterprising of billionaires can’t seem to find satisfaction in any amount of accumulated wealth, it’s worth asking what, exactly, we’re supposed to be dreaming about.
Olga Acevedo, the main character in Xochitl Gonzalez’s debut novel “Olga Dies Dreaming”, struggles with this question. Daughter of Puerto Rican activists – a mother who disappeared into an underground life as a revolutionary when Olga was 12 and a father became heroin addict and died of AIDS – Olga was raised by her grandmother in Brooklyn, excelled in public schools from New York. and graduated from an unnamed Ivy League college. As the book opens in the summer of 2017, she is, at 39, a sought-after high-end wedding planner. His older brother, Prieto, is a progressive congressman and divorced father who also happens to be a locked-in homosexual, a secret that has made him vulnerable to blackmail by infamous (and very not progressive) real estate developers.
Although she is, on paper, a self-taught success story, Olga is also stuck and depressed. After a brief and disastrous foray into reality TV, she “realized she got distracted from the real American dream – hoarding money – by her phantom cousin, hoisting fame.” But the job of showing off the matrimonial whims of the rich, even if she figured out how to take advantage of it, has become “tedious and stupid.” Disdainful of her clients and frustrated by the financial disadvantage of strict ethics, Olga embarks on shady business: filling orders for alcohol and caviar and selling the surplus. She does this even though she has noticed that money seems to bring little satisfaction to her clients, that “the mere fact of existing seems like a huge burden to them.” She has no real friends, seeks loveless sex with an ultra-rich libertarian whose daughter she has previously planned to marry, and although she is involved and supported by her extended family in Brooklyn, she is moreover sleepwalker in a life as confined as that of his brother.