Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Kool Aid

New People by Danzy Senna is an excellent book. I saw it acknowledged this past Sunday in the New York Times list of great books for 2017. I'd read another book by Senna and liked that.

This one is better. It is well written; the characters and their mannerisms are effectively portrayed, and the story is engaging.  It's a short book--only 229 pages and you can go through it in a day or two.  Both the previous book by Senna that I'd read, Caucasia, and this one deal with issues faced by those who are biracial. Senna herself is biracial and most of the characters in New People are biracial.

In this book a woman, Maria, is engaged to be married but--we learn early on--has developed a very strong affection for a man she barely knows.  The attraction is magnetic.  Maria is a doctoral student.  Her dissertation topic, which is not irrelevant to the story, deals with Jonestown and the over 900 deaths there when followers of Jim Jones, literally, drank the Kool-Aid that they knew would end their lives.  The expression that has evolved "drinking the Kool-Aid" is derived from the Jonestown self inflicted massacre in 1979.  There are different flavors of Kool-Aid that we all consume with various effects-- some flavors are more toxic than others.  Maria studies Jonestown while she herself nurses a debilitating potion.

In New People, we learn about Maria's mother, fiance, soon to be sister-in-law, college boyfriends and the stranger of course. There's an encounter with another college acquaintance who has both consumed and is selling another brand of Kool-Aid. Then there is a peculiar scene with a neighbor and a baby which stretches credulity, and an ongoing story about a documentary being made about biracial people by a biracial woman.

More than anything I liked how the main characters in New People were drawn.  A number of scenes to me seemed difficult to capture and yet Senna made the events and the people appear so very real that I felt I might have been in the scene observing events myself. 

The ending might not tie the knot for you, but maybe it will if you give it some time.  New People is worth the energy you'll spend reading it.

No comments:

Post a Comment