Book Quote:

“The world, it seemed, though not united in their opinion of our kind, was united in their awareness of our kind, and by extension, their need to remark upon it – the fact of me, a white woman, married to him, a black man.

The only problem, of course, was that it wasn’t true. Any of it.”

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shtulman  (JUN 2, 2011)

What does it mean to be biracial and free in postmillennial America? The writer James Baldwin is quoted as saying, “Freedom is something that people take and people are as free as they want to be.”

By that definition, do the young interracial women that inhabit Danzy Senna’s first collection of short stories want to be free? Or do they want to belong to a collective… something, larger than themselves? The answer, as one might suspect, is complicated.

Danzy Senna – author of Caucasia, daughter of the African-Mexican poet Carl Senna and Fanny Howe, a white American of Irish descent – explores this question from her unique vantage point. Each of her characters is struggling for self-identity; each is hopeful and yet yearning for more. The short story collection is populated with ambivalent women, detached husbands, troubled girlfriends, and young babies and toddlers.

In the eponymous title story, Lara, a New Yorker who is anticipating her first byline from an obscure magazine tries hard to love her fate as a childless woman. Still, when she receives a mistaken call from a young girl who believes Lara is her mother, she goes into self-denial: “She had a family – a child – and the knowledge of this made her feel complete, though she knew she was not supposed to buy into such retrograde logic.” Yet still she does, with nebulous “what-ifs.”

Then there’s Livy, a Brooklyn-born artist and new mother who has found happiness with a Santa Fe gallery owner. When Livy hosts an old and spurned friend, she discovers that the connection between them has disintegrated: “She felt the daughter-self, young and vain, dying, and the mother-self, huge and sad, rising up in its wake, linking her to nothing less than history.” And we meet the liberal and African-American couple Cassie Duncan; tensions flare when their pre-schooler is admitted to a very tony private school and a decision must be made.

Lara, Livy, Cassie and others struggle with identity in a world that sometimes considers them interchangeable. (In the story “What’s The Matter With Helga and Dave?,” two women who look nothing alike are mistaken for each other because each is part of a supposedly interracial couple). Their greatest sense of comfort seems to be found in community: a young woman Janice takes in an abandoned puppy after being dumped by her black boyfriend and withdraws into a new world of dog caregivers who meet in the park each morning. Livy feels “love of a religious magnitude” for the world of new mothers, a world to which she has just gained entry. Helga’s friend Rachel gains a feeling of comfort after moving into The Chandler, an apartment building with other interracial couples.

These revealing stories have a seemingly effortless flow to them, despite some flaws. Some of the conclusions do have a retrograde feel: single women are inevitably unhappy; motherhood mostly brings meaning and fulfillment. Danzy Senna sometimes doesn’t trust her readers enough; for instance, the reader can evidently conclude that the mixed-breed dog Beulah is a stand-in for her owner, but Ms. Senna drums the message home. And her story “Triptych” – the same story told three times – is simply too gimmicky. Still, this is an insightful look about appearances and attachment in our increasingly hard-to-define nation.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 2 readers
PUBLISHER: Riverhead Trade; 1 edition (May 3, 2011)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow



June 2, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Class - Race - Gender, Short Stories

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.