It's not an exaggeration to say that Jerome Segal has authored one of the most compelling works of political campaign literature ever published. Admittedly, the bar is low. Most candidates tend to write tedious self-important memoirs recounting "lessons in leadership" while eschewing personal revelations about, for example, a youthful sexual attraction to a family member that was nearly consummated.
Segal is not most candidates. The 79-year-old socialist philosopher, anti-Israel activist, and Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Maryland recently (self-) published a "psychological and autobiographical novel" that confronts the author's—sorry, the protagonist's—odd incestuous obsession with his "alluring" aunt, and his lingering regret over failing to muster the courage to crawl into bed with her one fateful night at the family cottage many years ago.
85 Rochdale Road: A Novel, available only in audiobook format and narrated in a British accent, places that one-bedroom summer cottage at the center of the Teres family saga as Sam, the autobiographical protagonist, struggles to "unravel the labyrinth of his youth" and the history of the relatives who shaped his life.
The cottage, located on the edge of a semi-legendary 1930s-era socialist commune outside New York City, has recently come into Sam's possession after a death in the family. He proceeds to recount the "life-imprinting drama" that played out within its meager walls, none more significant than a near-romantic encounter with his mother's younger sister.
Who among us would be unable to relate? The aunt has curiously decided to spend the night alone with "Sam," then a graduate student on summer break, rather than return to the city with her husband, Sam's uncle. The scene is set for what might have been "the most expanded moment" of Sam's entire life, the explosive culmination of years of "sexual buzz" and "runaway nonstop desire" between nephew and aunt. Alas, it was not to be.
It was "an opportunity that came and went," Sam laments, "one that for years I regretted not having seized." Even now, some 50 years later, he still alternates "between wishing that it had and thanking the stars that it didn't," while trying to make sense of it all. Of that night in the cabin. Of the time she rubbed ointment on his back to treat his "adolescent skin condition." Of the family Christmas party where he asked his aunt to slow dance and "grew excited; she must have felt me."
At this point you're probably thinking, "Wait, who the hell is Jerome Segal?" Fair question. He's a creature of academia who previously worked as a Capitol Hill aide and government bureaucrat. He's also a semi-prominent member of the anti-Israel activist community.
In 1989, Segal founded the Jewish Peace Lobby, a precursor to J-Street. Years earlier, he was part of the first American Jewish delegation to meet with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which the United States classified as a terrorist organization. He boasts of being the only Jewish columnist to be regularly published in Al-Quds, the Palestinian newspaper best known for defending the veracity of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Until recently, Segal was a candidate for president in the 2024 Democratic primary. (No, you shouldn't have known that.) He dropped out to enter the U.S. Senate primary in Maryland after incumbent Sen. Ben Cardin (D., Md.) announced his retirement in May. (No, he's not going to win that race, either.) Segal previously challenged Cardin in the 2018 Democratic primary; he came in third behind convicted traitor Chelsea Manning.
"This was the first time in American political history," Segal wrote in a press release announcing the release of his novel, "that a sitting U.S. Senator faced a primary challenge because of his ties to AIPAC and his unwavering support for Israeli government policies."
Another aspect of Segal's political philosophy—one that features prominently throughout 85 Rochdale Road—is his commitment to socialism, the hardcore variety his Polish-born father and other family members embraced in the early 20th century at a time when such views were relatively fashionable and untested in practice.
Segal stayed the family course. He is the founder of "Bread and Roses" socialism, a "new political outlook" that sounds awfully familiar, based on punitive taxation and "going beyond ... 'equal opportunity' ... towards greater actual equality of material condition."
The novel tells the story of an immigrant family that finds success in America after narrowly avoiding catastrophe in Europe. The American Dream is realized. Alas, the socialist pipe dream is not. Upon the death of the Teres family matriarch, a committed Socialist Party member who palled around with Norman Thomas, her descendants end up squabbling over property ownership and $5,000 of her estate.
"I am sure of this," the protagonist muses thoughtfully. "There is nothing I have ever done in my adult life that my father would have viewed as real work."
Indeed there is not.
85 Rochdale Road: A Novel
by Jerome M. Segal
Author's Republic, Audiobook, $8.39