SYMPTOMATIC by Danzy Senna


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Adrift in New York, a young woman falls into the clutches of a predatory coworker.

It all seemed so promising. Our nameless narrator arrives in the city from California to start her first job with a general-interest magazine. She has a newly minted degree and a prestigious journalism fellowship. Soon enough she meets a sweetly sad young guy on the subway and moves in with him. All goes well until Andrew takes her to meet his friends, WASPy Andover grads like himself. They make crass, racist remarks, and Andrew’s girl retreats to the bathroom. She has a secret, you see: she’s biracial, though she can pass for white when she chooses. Disenchanted with Andrew (how come they’d never discussed her family?), she moves to a Brooklyn sublet; it has bad vibes, but the rent and space are right. She was referred by coworker Greta Hicks, a badly dressed older woman in a low-level job so pathetically eager for attention you’d think a smart cookie like our narrator would avoid her like the plague. But the author needs to hook them up because Greta, also of mixed race, is the vehicle she uses to give the issue a complete workout. Once the journalist has accepted Greta’s overtures, there’s no escaping her; only when Greta disparages the young woman’s parents does she realize how “bilious” her putative friend can be. Greta’s behavior becomes truly bizarre once the narrator starts dating a black artist. She spies on them from behind parked cars, then falls apart on the job and has to be removed from the building by security guards as she screams curses. The text closes with a melodramatic flourish on the roof of that Brooklyn apartment building.

Credible characterization is the biggest casualty of this slight, depressing, issue-driven second novel. Senna covered this ground much more convincingly in her award-winning debut (Caucasia, 1998).

Pub Date: May 10th, 2004
ISBN: 1-57322-275-5
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Riverhead
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2004


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