Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on White Fur.
It begins in New Haven, Connecticut, an intense, furious novel I fell in love with from the first page
as author Jardine Libaire reimagines Romeo and Juliet circa 1986. The decade already craves a new definition: investments soaring, a generation thrust into the chaos of identity and expectation, the narcotic bliss of technology just around the corner. Connection still requires a person-to-person exchange, the accoutrements of class distinct if sometimes blurred. Everything is sealed with frost, the stars obscured when Elise Perez stands at her window, watching the two young men who live next door to the apartment she shares. Robbie found her sleeping in his car and brought her home one night, happy to share his place. A small man, Robbie often invites the young men he favors to stay over. A creature of the streets, Elise has few expectations
and resists definitions, preferring impulse, her life prematurely stained with worldly experience.
The two young men she watches are clearly well-off, expensive clothing tossed casually aside, ostentatious cars at the curb, the side-by-side buildings examples of the haves and have-nots. Elise zips up her knee-length rabbit coat (traded one night for a pack of gum), pulls on her boots and walks next door. Smoking on their porch, the young men, Matt and Jamey, assess Elise: “not beautiful, not ugly and not ordinary.” Once inside, she accepts a beer then warns them not to make fun of Robbie again. She has seen them do so before. She strides back into the night, message delivered.
Something is set in motion by this encounter, Elise stunned by Jamey’s beauty: “It was as though she was watching a jet cross the sky, then realized it was a bird.” For his part, Jamey has been experiencing a sense of dislocation in his life.
“The child king” in a prominent family, the symmetry of his beautiful face has brought him unearned praise, acceptance in a world that values handsome people: “What happens, anyway, when the village chooses the wrong kid as their prophet?” He has not asked for this regard, the bestowing of power. Staring into the eyes of this compelling, unique girl, Jamey is jolted, thrown off-balance, entering a foreign place, free of the carefully groomed, distant persona he offers to the world.
It is fitting they should meet in the city, cushioned by the anonymity of its cacophony, the serendipity of their attraction and the clumsy way their romance unfolds. Draped in language rich and bold, the lovers explore one another, their sexual encounters unabashed, a natural progression of intimacy, and unexplored world for Jamey. He is seduced by her sexual hunger, an exotic landscape that leaves him wanting more, consumed by fantasy and longing. It is not surprising when Jamey’s family becomes concerned with the folly of his choice,
suspicious of a feckless girl from the wrong background, not what is expected.
From New Haven to Manhattan, Libaire constructs her Romeo-and-Juliet scenario, a precarious house of cards, star-crossed lovers out of step with family expectations; the concentrated efforts of those who would break them apart; the incongruity of their mutual obsession; and the conventional wisdom that such passion will turn to ash when reality strikes. No matter. With stunning prose and stark images, these unlikely lovers exist in their own universe, lurching in and out of boundaries, lust growing into a deeper connection. Odd and extreme, the lovers are a product of an evolving society, a generation betrayed by a world that sends confusing messages, emotional orphans with conflicting experiences.
Though the novel is set in the late 1980s, the terrain feels dystopian, the striking
but withdrawn scion of fortune and a lanky woman stitched together from the remnants of abuse and adversity, her worldview malleable: “Elise never separates things into day or night, never thinks about being a boy or a girl, alive or dead.” In that bifurcated world, where unlikely lovers thrive, the author’s exquisite prose is intoxicating, causes me to pause, read again: “She saw the other side, the wolf crawling through the wreckage, through broken walls, the child who doesn’t know its own name.” White Fur is a roller coaster ride, a fearless journey; most of all, it hums with life.