TITLE: BLACK GIRL / WHITE GIRL
AUTHOR: JOYCE CAROL OATES
PUBLISHER: HARPER PERENNIAL
GENRE: GENERAL FICTION
COVER TYPE: PAPER BACK
BLURB FROM THE BACK COVER
Fifteen years after the mysterious death of Minette Swift – a 19-year-old black girl enrolled as a scholarship student in an exclusive liberal arts college – her former roommate Genna begins an unofficial enquiry into the traumatic event. In reconstructing the girls’ tumultuous freshman year at the college, Genna is led also to reconstruct her life as the daughter of a famous ‘radical-hippie-lawyer’ of the 1960s among whose clients were anti-Vietnam war protesters wanted by the FBI.
What follows is a gripping and personal portrayal of ‘black’ and ‘white’ in America in the years of crisis following the end of the Vietnam War, and the ignominious exposure and fall of President Richard Nixon.…
PLOT SUMMARY: Genna is ‘white girl’ and comes from a privileged family. She’s the daughter of a notorious radical lawyer. She becomes obsessed with her black college roommate, Minette swift, the ‘black girl’. She tries to befriend Minette who’s a very harsh person. Minette seemingly becomes the victim of racial harassment. Genna becomes even more determined to protect her until tragedy strikes.
HIGHLIGHTS: Oates’s characterisation is spot on. She does a great job of showing us how abrasive Minette is. Genna proves to be an interesting contrast to her. Genna doesn’t just try to befriend Minette; she becomes obsessed with defending her no matter how abrasive and unpleasant Minette is. Minette’s mental health starts to decline as the ‘racial harassment’ becomes gradually worse. These scenes were very well written. I had no idea Minette was actually responsibly for the ‘attacks’ until Oates revealed this. I never saw it coming. Well done Oates. Oates is a lovely writer and Black Girl / White Girl is not different.
LOWLIGHTS: I hate the title. Black Girl / White Girl is a little OTT and a little obvious. Genna narrates the novel and she tells us from the start that Minette died in strange, violent circumstances. The spoils Black Girl / White Girl to an extent because you know it’s going to end. I think this is one of the worst literary crimes a writer can be guilty of. Oates has done it before and this ticks me off. Genna is quite a shallow character. It seems clear she’s obsessed with Minette because she’s black. Genna confesses to witnessing the attempted suicide of a man her father protected as a child to the dean of her dorm. Her confession leads to her father being charged with the purchase of fire arms, securing safe houses to anti-Vietnam-war protestors and second degree murder. He’s sentenced to 35 years. This ‘sub plot’ had no connection to the rest of the novel and felt tacked on to flesh the length.
THE OPENING LINE
I have decided to begin a text without a title…
Black Girl / White Girl isn’t bad. It’s not as good as Oates other novels but she does a good job.