Archive for the ‘privilege’ Tag

In Plain View   Leave a comment

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The lies we tell ourselves, and others, to create new lives is the theme of The Vanishing HalfBrit Bennett’s novel addresses several timely issues including racism, sexism, privilege and gender identity. These are daunting points to undertake, but Bennett, without diminishing their importance, imbues the narrative with compassion and wonder.

At its heart, this is about twin sisters, Desiree and Stella, who, as teenagers, ran away from home: a small, rural community of fair-skinned Blacks. The story tracks their lives as they eventually take separate paths, both figuratively and literally. Desiree returns home with Jude, her  young, very dark daughter in tow;  Stella passes herself as white, marries, moves to an exclusive area in Los Angeles and constantly worries she’ll be exposed.

The emphasis on Jude’s blackness drives the uncommon, perhaps unpopular, notion racism is only something whites project to nonwhites. Within her own, albeit pale, Black town, Jude’s been shunned since the day she arrived. Despite this, she doesn’t see herself as a victim and hers is the most engaging subplot within the novel thanks to those she interacts with most.

Although some stereotypes exist, most of Bennett’s characters are well-defined.  This goes beyond physical descriptions, but includes their joys, heartbreaks and deep emotions.

The settings change but the most important action occurs in the rural south and Los Angeles. Incorporating different locales makes it easy to see problems aren’t restricted to geographic regions. And, lies travel easily from one place to another.

The Vanishing Half

Four-and-a-half Bookmarks

Riverhead Books, 2020

343 pages

While We’re on the Subject   Leave a comment

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The life phase Kiley Reid refers to in her debut novel Such a Fun Age could be one of several: mid-20s, high school, early 30s, preschool or all of the above. Each contributes to the plot. Yet this work is far more important than time frames. It’s opportune as we examine our perceptions of race and racism.

Emira Tucker is soon to be 26 and no longer eligible for coverage under her parents’ health insurance. College-educated without a clue what to do with her life, she has two part-time gigs: babysitter and typist. It’s the former that drives much of the narrative. She’s African American; Alix Chamberlain, the woman whose child she watches, isn’t. Late one Friday night, Emira is with Alix’s daughter in an upscale market when confronted by a security guard. He questions why the black woman is with a young, white a child. The exchange is recorded on a bystander’s phone. The incident has the potential to go viral, but Emira’s not interested in taking the situation further and Alix is mortified it happened at all.

Reid’s characters are smart, funny and credible. Even with her lack of ambition, Emira is likable. It’s obvious she enjoys the toddler she babysits, but as a reader I found myself wanting more her. I don’t like admitting it, this is what Alix wants, too. Alix is a character I otherwise don’t want to identify with: she’s clueless and privileged. Yet …

This is an important story told with a surprisingly light touch.

Such a Fun Age
Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019
310 pages

Samba, Memories and Regrets   1 comment

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The Air You Breathe by Frances De Pontes Peebles gifts readers with an expansive, beautifully-written view of the ebbs and flows of deep friendships.

Dores, whose existence is shaped by her role as an orphan on a Brazilian sugar plantation, narrates the story. Her life changes when Graca, the spoiled, young daughter of the sugar cane baron, arrives. The two are opposites in every way. It is no surprise that their attraction is the impetus for their future endeavors.

Since there are no other children her age, Graca’s parents enlist Dores as playmate and study companion for their daughter. Despite spending much of her life up to this point working in the kitchen, Dores is a good student, much better than her friend.  Yet, Garca possesses all of the advantages that will contribute to her success: beauty, a mesmerizing voice, a strong will and privilege.

The narrative begins with Dores looking back on her past, specifically the success of Graca, who becomes legendary Samba singer Sofia Salvador. The trajectory from rural Brazil to Rio de Janeiro to Hollywood is more than a rags-to-riches story. Each chapter begins, or ends depending on perspective, with the lyrics Dores has written and made famous by Sofia/Graca.

The characters are lively, the street scenes vibrant and the pulse of the 1930s and ‘40s sets the rhythm. The connection between the two women is full of joy and anguish, frustration and pride. Dores and Graca need each other, despite often wishing this was not the case.

The Air You Breathe
Five Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2018
449 pages

Doing Time   Leave a comment

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I enjoyed Orange is the New Black, the book by Piper Kerman. I haven’t seen the Netflix series of the same name, but after reading Kerman’s account I’m now inclined to watch because Kerman’s account intrigued me.

The author, privileged and intelligent (except for the episode in her life that landed in her prison), writes about her year in a minimum security facility in Danbury, Conn. She is honest about her own fear at being incarcerated and the guilt she has for vicariously putting her family, fiancé and friends through her ordeal. Yet, she does so without self-pity, with humor and insightful respect for most of her fellow inmates.

It’s the latter that particularly garners the reader’s attention and doesn’t let go. Kerman learned to survive thanks in large part to the women around her. It’s no surprise that Kerman would undergo a transformation, but perceptions about prisoners and their crimes do, too. Although it wasn’t an easy 12 months, Kerman shares moments of fun, revelation, pride and friendship – in addition to the aforementioned guilt.

Of course, hers is not a summer camp experience, but neither is it as brutal as initially anticipated. At least that’s the case while in Connecticut. This changes, though, when just before her release she is transferred to Chicago to await testifying in a related trial. There she confronts the woman who years earlier revealed Kerman’s name to authorities. Nonetheless, the author’s honesty and humor make this a worthwhile read.


Orange is the New Black

Four Bookmarks
Spiegel & Grau Trade Paperback, 2013
302 pages

http://piperkerman.com/

Wedding Nightmares   5 comments

Seating Arrangements

Anyone planning a wedding in the next few months, or ever, might consider avoiding Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead; but they would be missing a fun, albeit satirical, and poignant look at families under stress.

Shipstead’s debut novel focuses on Winn Van Meter, father of the bride-to-be, in the three days prior to the ceremony. Winn is a banker, a Harvard man whose greatest disappointments are that he didn’t have sons and has yet to be granted membership in a private golf club. His daughter Daphne, seven months pregnant, is marrying Greyson Duff. That name alone suggests privilege, which is an apt description for the entire wedding party.

The nuptials are taking place on a fashionable island off the New England coast. The Van Meters have long had a vacation home there, although, as it turns out, the Duffs have their own island. Yet, the only character concerned with one-upmanship is Winn. And, perhaps, his younger daughter, Livia, who was recently dumped by her boyfriend, Teddy Fenn – whose father, Winn surmises, is responsible for obstructing admittance to the private club.

Shipstead’s multiple talents lie in her ability to create distinct voices and flaws for each of her characters. The cast of which include friends, family, and the Fenns. Biddy Van Meter, Winn’s wife, is the voice of reason while humoring her husband. However, her patience and fortitude wane as his attraction to one of the bridesmaids waxes.

In Shipstead’s hands, humor and heartache are worn with the ease of a properly fitted cummerbund.

Seating Arrangements
Four Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2012
302 pages