"The writing throughout is strong, with frequent use of simile."– Kirkus Reviews
Clovis (Quantum Leaps in Princeton’s Place, 2015, etc.) continues her fictionalized tales of residents, university students, and faculty in Princeton, New Jersey, as they endure and battle discrimination throughout history.
Many of the real-life people portrayed in this book have harrowing back stories. Italian journalist Roberto Saviano, for example, once enraged the Mafia with his bestselling tell-all book, but now he’s free from constant fear as a teacher at Princeton University. Most others face racism, including the author’s daughter, Michaela, who recalls schoolteachers treating her unfairly. Clovis uses different voices to provide social context, as in a lengthy section featuring Michelle Obama, who attended Princeton in the 1980s; in it, the author quotes the first lady’s 2016 New Hampshire speech in support of then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, which discusses bigotry as well as sexism. It’s a startling piece about intolerance at the highest levels and mirrors a later chapter, in which university students in 2015 stage a protest to have Woodrow Wilson’s name removed from the school. The former U.S. president, the author says, was not only in favor of segregation, but also discouraged African-Americans from applying to Princeton when he was head of the university. Throughout, Clovis advocates examining history in order to bring about social change. For example, in 1992, District of Columbia public defender Robert Wilkins was pulled over on suspicion of drug trafficking by Maryland cops (which Clovis faintly links to Princeton via a somewhat similar case); Wilkins’ ensuing lawsuit was both a triumph and a landmark, requiring the state of Maryland to maintain detailed records of traffic stops. The book touches on other unsettling subjects, such as the story of the infamous Menendez brothers; they were convicted of murdering their parents, whose graves are in Princeton Cemetery. One of the best stories, however, relates to Sept. 11, 2001: on her daily train rides to New York City, Clovis noticed that some of her fellow commuters were suddenly gone after the terrorist attack, their fates unknown. This section provides a showcase for the author’s remarkable prose: “I could hear my footsteps echo against the damp cement walkway as I rushed to the train. The echo reminded me of the fear behind me and being alone. Death.”
Short but cogent stories that stimulate as often as they educate.
In her latest novel, Clovis (Another SAT, 2005, etc.) depicts a century of change in the one-time home of Albert Einstein.
Princeton, New Jersey, a tree-lined town dominated by its famous university, contains many magnificent homes—including the Rosedale House, which serves as the focal point of this book. Its residents witness many changes in the town, starting in the early 1900s. Those residents include Ida, an African-American girl who yearns to break away from Carnethia, her suffocating mother; Daisy, the white mistress of the house; her husband, Barker; a rebellious African-American girl named Beatrice; and Tina, who dreams of success as a singer. As they go about their lives, growing and changing, Princeton grows and changes as well; horse-drawn vehicles give way to automobiles, and older homes and buildings are torn down and replaced by modern hotels, stores, and landmarks such as Palmer Square. At the center of everything is the Rosedale House, the one constant in a sea of change. The writing throughout is strong, with frequent use of simile (“They strolled slowly from Nassau Street to the Rosedale house, like a dark sea creeping its way along a pale, sandy beach”). Clovis begins the book with observations about how she came to write it through a happy accident of circumstances. She effectively uses a large, ever-changing cast of characters, weaving them in and out of the story in various locales, but never letting the focus wander from Princeton and the theme of time’s passage. It also depicts the casual and violent racism of American society in the early- to mid-1900s, such as when Beatrice is raped by a white man, or when Daisy attempts to help an African-American family move into another town’s white neighborhood. Even the chapter about Einstein, a legendary character in Princeton for his violin playing and absent-minded wanderings, shows the otherwise open-minded community’s surprising bigotry. Given the recent, racially charged events in Ferguson, Missouri, and other places, Clovis’ version of Princeton seems like a microcosm of America.
An engaging look at the evolution of a town, its people, and its attitudes.