The Last of Her Kind
Sigrid Nunez
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The Last of Her Kind

Sigrid Nunez
391 pages
December 2006
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars
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Click here to read reviewer Amanda Cuda's take on The Last of Her Kind.

This novel is the perfect example of the self-obsession of the Sixties, which sounds groovy in retrospect but was actually a cauldron of passionate political opinions tainted by a slide into drugs that dilutes the message and enables considerable pharmaceutical experimentation.

Heaped with accolades from the publishing industry for its treatment of race and class, Nunezís novel is set in New York, first on the campus of Barnard College, where two young women become roommates and lifelong acquaintances, although their road will be divergent and filled with conflict.

Georgette George comes from the lower end of the middle class, astonished to find herself at Barnard College in 1968, albeit paired with a roommate of the privileged class, Dooley Ann Drayton from Connecticut: "The word meager came to me the first time I saw her." Dooley soon adopts her middle name, Ann, in protest of her background.

On a campus seething with political activity, anti-Vietnam war groups, Black Panthers and a casual drug culture, the two students talk deep into the night, Ann gravitating to militant organizations, mouthing the slogans she hopes will transform her into "one of the people." Given their backgrounds, the inevitable confrontation occurs and their paths diverge, George entering the world of publishing while coping with an addled, drug-addicted younger sister.

The following years pass in an almost documentary narrative: Ann will be indicted for the killing of a racist policeman when her black boyfriend is shot and killed; George will continue a sporadic relationship with Ann, various communications after the former debutante is incarcerated for life.

In the dispassionate narrative of the novel. Georgette recalls her college years with little emotion, even her brutal rape lumped with the struggles of the less fortunate, as cavalier about the attack as her attitude toward hard drugs: "The first time I ever did heroin, I thought God had bent down from heaven and kissed me on the lips."

The style of the novel changes chapter by chapter, including a short manuscript of prison life, as though the author is experimenting with form. In any case, the stories roll out in an undisciplined rush as the author defines her characters without revealing their private yearnings and disappointments, with neither joy nor suffering, only details, as though this is a play waiting for the actors to breathe life into the parts. I am left unbelieving. I have spent my time, like the author, uninvolved.

The use of the n-word is guaranteed to set off alarms, a conceit of this pretentious narrative of race and class in the Sixties; the text does little to give the predominant themes a valid context, couched as they are in the odd behaviors of numbingly egocentric protagonists. Over all, The Last of Her Kind reeks of opportunism, the author mining the more salacious details of the era, sex, drugs and rock n' roll, with a dollop of racism to spice it up. East Coast, West Coast, maybe you had to be there. I was.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2005

Other books by Sigrid Nunez:

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