Thursday, July 10, 2008

Black Girl/White Girl by Joyce Carol Oates

- Miranda.

Oh, bother.

This was not a good book. I had high hopes for it, but... no. Spoilers in blue.

The basic storyline is this: Genna Meade, a moderately wealthy daughter of a radical political activist, is in her freshman year at Schuyler University. Her roommate is Minette Swift, a black minister's daughter from D.C. Hijinks ensue. Hijinks that eventually lead to Minette's death.

I'm not really sure what to spoilerfy here, because I'm not going to recommend this book. I'll just put the rest of the plot in blue, but by no means am I telling you to skip ahead.

Genna Meade is weird. She's incredibly needy, but it's so strange. She desperately tries to be friends with Minette, even though Minette seemingly has no interest in her. It's not like Genna doesn't have any other friends, she mentions on more than one occassion that other girls in the dorm like her. She's also bizarrely protective of Minette, for reasons I don't quite comprehend. Genna's parents are bat-shit crazy and her brother ran away to live with relatives when Genna was 11, which I guess could explain why she so desperately tries to create some sort of familial relationship with Minette. Her mother is an alcoholic nutcase. Her father is a radical anarchist who may have connections to criminal enterprises.

Minette Swift is weird. Everybody, except Genna, hates her. Steadily throughout the book she is subjected to more and more acts of racisim, from racist pictures being left under the door, books stolen and vandalized, even the word "NIG" being scrawled in black marker across their dorm door. I know this all sounds terrible, and I felt sorry for her, until it became clear that she was doing it all herself. I'm not sure why, but I think it may have been to get attention, to get a private room, and to get extensions on papers. Once she gets a private room in another campus builing, Minette dies from a fire resulting from all the freakin' candles she left burning.

This book is so confusing. I don't like any of the characters, the plot doesn't really make that much sense, and Oates' sentence structure is awkward. It really feels like she started the book without knowing how it would finish. From the blurb I thought it was going to be about Minette's murder at the hands of the people who were harrassing her and the way Genna and the college deal with the aftermath. My version sounds kind of interesting, right? Like a murder mystery with some racial/political aspects. But no.

I'm willing to give Oates another shot. She's written 119 books, I'm just going to assume that I picked one from the shitty end of the bell curve. Sigh. I give it a D+.

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