White Fur by Jardine Libaire
Pages: 305 pages (Hardcover)
Published by Hogarth Press May 30th, 2017
Genre: Literary Fiction, Romance, Contemporary
Overall Rating: 3/5
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley, but that does not have a sway in my reviews. I am a human being with thoughts of her own, and I am not obligated to automatically give this book five stars.
When I first started White Fur, I was engrossed by the highly lyrical text and progressive scenes but as I continued reading, I began to question the writer’s motives in creating a nonredeemable half-Puerto Rican character from the “wrong side of the tracks” who falls in love with a rich, most likely white, Yale senior. While there have been many contemporary adaptations of Romeo & Juliet that have played with the “wrong side of the tracks” trope such as West Side Story by Arthur Laurents, Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles, etc., these stories had redeemable characters that were developed over time. Unlike characters in those stories, it felt as if Elise, the lead female protagonist, had very little to offer other than grittiness and sex.
Throughout White Fur, Elise was described as the type who is born to lose, who is loud and obsessive, lustful and wild. At one point, her intelligence is even compared to her lover, Jamey’s. The author wrote:
Her intelligence isn’t organized the same way his is. She never finished more than a few pages of a book, but loves to talk about what she read. She thinks in wild gardens, and his thoughts are espaliered into an introduction with a thesis, then supporting body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
While this paragraph seems like a compliment, it also seems rather backhanded. It romanticizes the beauty in which Elise can find interest in books and thought, but in the end, she doesn’t have the structure and education that Jamey has had.
This book takes place in the 1980s so it would make sense that this book would have hints of classism, racism, and sexism, but as an adult living in 2017, I don’t really care for that type of story. It doesn’t appeal to me. As a reader, I want to see diverse characters who are redeemable and who defy gender norms. That’s all I ask for.
I’m sure readers will easily fall for this story and from what I’ve seen on Goodreads, they have. The poetic prose, vapid romance, and tragic narrative are high selling points. But if you haven’t read it and do choose to read it, question the racial dynamics of the character and question the author’s intentions. She’s a white author who stereotyped a POC character. As readers, we have the right to question why she chose to do that.