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Whitegirl: A Novel    by Kate Manning order for
by Kate Manning
Order:  USA  Can
Delta, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Whitegirl is a beautifully written and utterly engrossing novel, that entangles the reader in a scenario straight out of the OJ story or Shakespeare's Othello. The difference is that, in this case the 'white girl' survives to wonder, along with the reader, if the black man really did do it. As the tale unfolds, the author does a skilled job of testing her readers' reactions to race, along with those of her main characters.

As the story opens, a mute and despairing Charlotte Halsey reflects on her life leading up to the dramatic attack that left her speechless. Charlotte grew up in 'Smalltown, California', child of an Avon lady and a father who turned to religion to expiate guilt. She was the black sheep of the family; the rebel who had an abortion, from which she fled to a New Hampshire ski college. There the 'Magpie Syndrome, after the magpie, a bird that likes flash' led her into a relationship with dashing Jack Sutherland, who never seemed to see her. And there Charlotte met 'skiing phenomenon' Milo Robicheaux.

Charlotte left Jack after his obsession with her grew disturbing, moved to New York and fell into a successful 'haute couture' modelling career. Milo became 'the first black man to win Winter Olympic Gold', not once but several times. They met again in New York, and Charlotte found that Milo did see her, not just her looks, and she 'loved him for deep and complicated reasons, some of which had to do with me, what I needed.' They fell in love, married and had a child; 'two public figures united in a living, breathing example of how Love was The Answer.'

Unfortunately, Othello's Iago also plays a part in Whitegirl. Going by the name of Darryl, he acts as Milo's agent, leading him towards movie stardom in Cade: Rebel Fury, and working to convince him that a white 'Barbie' wife is not good for his career, and that all Milo is to Charlotte is a 'chocolate fantasy'. Eventually Milo fires him, or does he? Pressures on the celebrity marriage lead to strains, infidelity and alcohol. Then, at an all-time low for Charlotte, Jack shows up in her life again, and events move quickly to a violent climax and a big question mark for the amnesiac victim.

It's a wonderful story, about the complexity of relationships between any two people, who come together despite their differences - in this case compounded by the stresses of celebrity and the color factor; 'Names like Black, like White, will break your heart, crack it open like a melon dropped on the pavement.' Whitegirl is a brilliant debut novel that delves into all the shifting shades of gray between black and white.

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