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.