Black Girl/White Girl by Joyce Carol Oates

29 Jul

This book called to me a few weekends ago when I was browsing at Tattered Cover in Denver.

I had forgotten my first encounter with Joyce Carol Oates.

When Steve saw what I had bought, he was surprised. He reminded me that I had read his copy of a Joyce Carol Oates novel (neither of us could remember what it was) and had not liked it.

At all.


As it turns out, the offending book was We are the Mulvaneys.

When I told Steve what the book was that I didn’t like, he asked me what I thought of this one. I replied, “I liked it better than the last one.”

Not a rousing endorsement.

Don’t get me wrong. Black Girl/White Girl held my interest. I read it in 2 days.

I found a lot of truths in it about relationships between the races.

I was struck by how unlikeable the black girl of the title, Minette Swift, was.

I liked how the subplot about Genna and her father slowly took over and became the plot.

I found parts of it unreasonably obtuse. There was a little too much mystery and opaqueness surrounding Genna’s memories of incidents during her childhood and her dealings with her parents while at the same time her memories of her time with Minette were crisply focused.

Black Girl/White Girl is not an uplifting book. Nobody in it is or ends up happy.

Yet, all that being said, I’m glad I read it. I guess that means I’d have to give it a thumbs up.

From the back cover:

In 1975 Genna Hewett-Meade’s college roommate died a mysterious, violent death partway through their freshman year. Minette Swift had been assertive, fiercely individualistic, and one of the few black girls at their exclusive, “enlightened” college – and Genna, daughter of a prominent civil defense lawyer, felt duty-bound to protect her at all costs. But fifteen years later, while reconstructing Minette’s tragic death, Genna is forced to painfully confront her own past life and identity . . . and her deepest beliefs about social obligation in a morally gray world.

Black Girl/White Girl is a searing double portrait of race and civil rights in post-Vietnam America, captured by one of the most important literary voices of our time.

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Posted by on July 29, 2011 in American Lit



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