BLACK GIRL/WHITE GIRL
Joyce Carol Oates
Ecco Press/Harper Collins
Contrary to what the title implies, i did not see this book as being primarily concerned with Race/Racism (although both are endemic to our society and cannot be disregarded). i saw it as a story about the search for identity....the forging of..through the minefield of one's family dynamic..two young women, one black...on white..roommates at an exclusive women's college in PA 1975...both ill-prepared for the experience
MINETTE(Black Girl): surly, "unattractive", aloof..."She doesn't act Black"...unprepared academically for the school,which she attends as a Merit Scholar...her accusations of Racist Harrassment/Harrassment in General, begin early on and escalate as academic struggles become worse and her mental state deteriorates..the daughter of a prominent Black Minister in Washington D C ..Minette comes from a conservative home.....her constant references to Jesus as her only, ultimate "savior" become frightening...could anyone have saved Minette from the fire that killed her?
GENNA (White Girl: forcefully outgoing yet painfully introverted...through her "upbringing" by Radical Chic parents (her father a prominent Civil Rights lawyer, whose character is oddly one-dimensional) she has learned Tolerance to the point of self-denial...feels it to be her Duty to protect Minette (from whom, i wondered..folks like herself?)..the book eventually turns into a Father/Daughter tango...with Minette as unwitting catalyst..or maybe the "idea" of Minette..Genna begins to forge her own identity only after ratting her Father out to the Feds..after which she becomes surly, aloof, and separate from what she "should" be....in later years...after Minette's death...Genna spends an inordinate amount of time compiling a "text without a title"...an investigation into the death of Minette, her college roommate.....
as in most of JCOates' work, Obsession plays a large part...which makes for a claustrophobic atmosphere and severely neurotic characters...given the time in which this book is set...mid-1970s..i think the tone was perfect.....i also think this is a fine exposition of the Shades of Grey we all deal with in becoming Ourselves...this is also a puzzling, frustrating read...too many clues offered...red herrings...and, ultimately questions...i liked this book.