The New York Times Book Review
Daughters of the Revolutionby Carolyn Cooke
It’s 1968. The prestigious but/i>/i>/i>
From the O. Henry Award–winning author of the story collection The Bostons—a New York Times Notable Book, Los Angeles Times Book of the Year and winner of the PEN/Robert Bingham Fellowship for Writers—an exquisite first novel set at a disintegrating New England prep school.
It’s 1968. The prestigious but cash-strapped Goode School in the town of Cape Wilde is run by its aging, philandering headmaster, Goddard Byrd, known to both his friends and his enemies as God. With Cape Wilde engulfed by the social and political storms of integration, coeducation and the sexual revolution, God has confidently promised coeducation “over my dead body.” And then, through a clerical error, the Goode School admits its first female student: Carole Faust, a brilliant, intractable fifteen-year-old black girl.
What does it mean to be the First Girl?
Carolyn Cooke has written a ferociously intelligent, richly sensual novel about the lives of girls and women, the complicated desperation of daughters without fathers and the erosion of paternalistic power in an elite New England town on the cusp of radical social change. Remarkable for the precision of its language, the incandescence of its images, and the sly provocations of its moral and emotional predicaments, Daughters of the Revolution is a novel of exceptional force and beauty.
From the Hardcover edition.
The New York Times Book Review
“Lifts the bell jar off the rarified world of traditional male prep schools. . . . Wickedly funny.” —Ms.
"Mordantly funny and coolly streamlined, deeply humane and slyly wise." —St. Petersburg Times
“Ferocious, astonishing. . . . [Cooke’s] profound, honest compassion for all her characters, men and women, makes them so engrossing, you almost forget what they’re up against.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“[Daughters of the Revolution] shimmers with intimate and revealing detail.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Cooke writes with such delicacy and control, such luminous warmth, that the only disappointment comes when the book ends.” —The Boston Globe
“Carolyn Cooke writes with knives and feathers. She slices into her subjects so we see the insides of them and she dusts off the everyday covering to reveal the true contours beneath. Her Daughters of the Revolution is bristling with smarts. Read it slowly and savor the gift this author gives her readers: fierce intelligence, sly humor and not a moment of missing the folly in life.” —Susan Minot, author of Rapture
“Wise [and] exquisitely spare.” —Marie Claire
“Cooke's writing is so sensuous and alert that it would be easy to miss the novel's symbolic qualities.” —The New Yorker
“So smart, so visceral, so sexy. . . . Absolutely brilliant.” —Kate Walbert, author of A Short History of Women
“[A] charming, provocative, intelligent novel” —Hudson Valley News
“Fiercely intelligent.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“If you read just one book of fiction this year, this should be the one.” —The Portland Press Herald
“This smart, sexy, sarcastic, sophisticated novel from Cooke . . . defies genre comparisons but has particular relevance.” — Library Journal (starred review)
“Cooke’s writing flows and sparkles.” —The Washington Independent Review of Books
“Exuberant bad behavior runs like a life force through this book, in which every sentence is chiseled exactly.” —Sarah Stone, author of The True Sources of the Nile
Read an Excerpt
He begins with a bang at the center of his story. It’s spring of that revolutionary year, not too far in. Meringues of snow line the sidewalks, but a freshness cuts the air. Goddard Byrd—known to his friends and enemies as “God”—has just emerged from an afternoon at the Parker House Hotel, a virile, uncircumcised male of his class, upbringing and era. His prostate gland and his praeputium have not yet been removed, and he is unburdened, just now, of Puritanism’s load. He has drunk a glass of gin, then lain with Mrs. Viktor Rebozos—whom he must remember to call Aileen—and both of them are better for this exercise.
In bed, she tells him he is a bear, all paws and claws. She insults him, purrs, climbs on top. She wants to know if he could be any wild animal, which would he be?
An animal? He would be a tiger!
(She would be a gazelle.)
He likes himself better this way, his natural shyness tempered by adrenaline. She is more fl exible than he, more at ease, depending on the occasion—more pliable. Women are pliable, he thinks; they revel in the shifting relations required by husbands,
children, lovers, others. (How can this be a matter of opinion?) He can’t tell Mrs. Rebozos these things; she might eat him alive.
They lie together in the fading afternoon light, the March grisaille. “The most beautiful words in the English language are sex in the afternoon,” she tells him, and he can’t, in the moment, find reason to correct her. Mrs. Rebozos’s tongue darts suddenly across his left nipple, and God rises with an animal roar, his body fire and ice.
She smiles. “I read that in The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana.”
“Do it again,” says God.
Her tongue and lips move excruciatingly over his body, describing ancient erotic techniques from the Orient. He rises obediently as a snake in a basket. God lifts his head to look at her, and feels an organ breach (liver? spleen?). She is so gamine, indeed! She looks like a boy. Almost. Short hair. Hoops in her ears. All of it signifying what? Maybe nothing. Eventually, he pins her to her back, which she seems to enjoy, and humps her in the familiar way, running breathlessly toward a goal, which he reaches.
“You’re beginning to get it, my earnest missionary,” she tells him afterward. “Let’s hope it’s not too late.”
They share a plate of cold roast beef, a famous roll. Naked, quivering a little, she wraps a blue knit scarf around her shoulders. “My dark secret,” she says. “All my life I’ve been drawn to misogynist coots like you. Like a taste for black coffee—incredible when you think about it.” Even God is surprised that a free-spirited woman such as Mrs. Rebozos would so defi antly stand beside an old man, in his shadow, eat meat with him and be his prize!
“I have to go,” he says into her ear. “You could stay all afternoon; you could have a bath.”
“Just a quick shower,” she says. “I have a women’s thing. Last week, we inspected our cervixes. Mine looked like an eye.
God tries to conceal his horror. At three, he descends, leaving Mrs. Rebozos to enjoy the rented room, whose extravagant price stabs him when he thinks of it. (In spite of the evidence, he imagines her as feminine, passive, mysterious and inert. Women
in their beds, Rorschach blots on luminous sheets.)
He advances through the lobby and rolls into the street like a well-oiled man on wheels. The atmosphere of hostility and depravity beyond the doors of the Parker House stings him like a slap. The street is fi lthy; even the city fathers are off their game, lax or stoned. Girls in paper dresses—temporary dresses for temporary girls—giggle at him. He’s harmless, they think, the last of a dying breed.
God passes gently into a haze of mustard-purple-maroon and marijuana fumes. In spite of the expense of the hotel and the crudeness of the street, he feels deeply at home in this world. It is divided and antagonistic, fi lled with human hatreds bred by race, religion and economics; he loves it anyway.
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
Carolyn Cooke’s short-story collection, The Bostons, was a winner of the 2002 PEN/Robert Bingham Fellowship for Writers and a runner-up for the PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award. Her fiction has appeared in AGNI, The Paris Review, Ploughshares and in two volumes each of The Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Prize Stories. A recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council, she teaches in the MFA writing program at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.
This eBook edition includes a Reading Group Guide.
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