Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Book Review- Symptomatic by Danzy Senna

Danzy Senna, author of the book Caucasia, pulls out all the stops in her novel Symptomatic. Not only do we have a novel that is quite representative of the psychological thriller but there is also an element of racial concerns that actually blends itself well within the tale. The narrator of the story is a young biracial woman from California who moves to NYC for a job who begins the tale with moving in with her somewhat boyfriend, Andrew, in order to escape her room at a boarding house. After meeting his friends at a party one night and finding out that they are racist when they begin making fun of maintenance people from their prep school and black people they see on TV, she moves out of his place and discovers an abandoned apartment through a co-worker named Greta Hicks who is also biracial. However, Greta is not all that she appears to be and in the shocking end, the reader learns just how far some people will go in order to deny who and what they truly are.
Through the eyes of the narrator, the reader is subjected to not only the slow downward spiral of events regarding her new apartment, but also her life as a biracial woman and how having a foot in both the black and white world is quite a precarious matter. At times, the narrator appears to be white while other times she appears to be black. She is a chameleon of sorts until the reader learns that not even she knows who she is. Senna spends quite a bit of time explaining the background of the narrator and why she is such a distant person who is quite impossible to love anyone and be loved by anyone. Her family was quite eccentric and seemed to love on a random basis, while she drifted along the currents like a piece of driftwood. When Greta comes along in her life, a fellow biracial person seeking like with supposedly like minds, the narrator does make a halfhearted attempt to befriend the lonely older woman, only to retreat quickly when Greta begins to show signs that all is not well in her own life.
This was my first time reading Senna and for the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed the slim novel. When a writer can grab my attention and make me flip through pages at a rapid pace, then that is a good trait to have. Her voice through the words seemed as though I was with the narrator watching the events unfold before her. After reading the first chapter, I immediately checked the Internet to find out more about Ms. Senna, hoping to learn as much as I could from one writer to another. What I discovered was that others who had read her work felt the same way; her voice was fresh, new and quite unique given her background and the topics she has written about. My admiration for Senna goes beyond literary; to talk of racial matters without browbeating it into the ground is a welcoming breath of fresh air. Senna has the charm to reveal such a world without overdoing it and for that, I tip my hat to her in sincere admiration.


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