Black Girl / White Girl: A Novel by Joyce Carol Oates - review by Gill Hornby

Gill Hornby

Campus Conflicts

Black Girl / White Girl: A Novel

By

Fourth Estate 272pp £17.99 order from our bookshop
 

Joyce Carol Oates is well known to have a penchant for the tricky heroine, but this time she is excelling herself. In Black Girl / White Girl she has created two heroines, and they are both extremely difficult in their own separate ways. Generva Hewett Meade is the heiress to both a substantial fortune and everything that is decent in American political history. Her rich forebears were Quakers and philanthropists, splendidly active in the abolitionist movement; her grandmother was an early feminist, her father is a well-known radical, hippy, Nixon-hating civil defence lawyer. And she herself is a pious pain in the neck. In 1975, when she is nineteen, Genna – as she prefers to be known – takes up a place at the university which her family has endowed. Nervous about being found out as a rich girl with connections, she is delighted to find herself rooming with a black girl on a scholarship. This novel is her notebook, in which she records – from the long view of late middle age – how it all goes terribly wrong.

Genna Meade is a damaged child. She has witnessed too many orgies, met too many fugitives from the FBI, endured too many sudden absences of her self-indulgent parents. From an early age, she has been made to feel guilty for being white and privileged. She has only lived in the

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