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Sister Golden Hair: A Novel Paperback – Deckle Edge, October 14, 2014

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Editorial Reviews


*Sister Golden Hair chosen as an Okra Pick by Southern Independent Booksellers Association
*Flavorwire picks Sister Golden Hair as one of the 50 best independent fiction and poetry books of 2014

“Steinke’s narrator, Jesse, is both unforgettably unique and a quintessential adolescent girl . . . Jesse’s naive admiration . . . and her chameleonlike reaction to whomever she attaches herself to create a painfully true account of a tough phase of life made more so by the disillusions of the time. But as Jesse observes these characters’ hopelessness, she herself becomes more defined—perhaps more the guitarist than the girl in the song.”

"Many authors bounce the sacred and profane against each another; Steinke blasts them together with the intensity of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC)....Part detective, part medium, part anthropologist, the Steinke heroine is pure bleeding whip-smart heart—voracious for pleasure but too wise to look away from ugliness. In her new novel Sister Golden Hair, the off-kilter quest Steinke has chronicled across her body of work gains a unifying voice..."

"A novelistic exploration of girlhood and shifting friendships mired in the vastly shifting world of the seventies South."
Vogue (Vogue's Best Under-the-Radar Books for Fall)

"Sister Golden Hair, with its story of a former minister's daughter finding herself in the suburban South of 40 years ago, feels like an American coming-of-age classic, a '70s period piece that should have already been written but actually hasn't — not with a sensitivity, candor and energy that is all Steinke."
Los Angeles Times

"Swift, sharply comic and often heartbreaking, Sister Golden Hair is a wonderful novel. . . .Steinke’s edgy characters and their concern with whatever force drives the known world and the unseen world bring power and excitement to this lovely book."
Miami Herald

"Sister Golden Hair [...] captivates in its strange mixture of the mundane and the fantastical, the pop-cultural and the metaphysical, and it’s very much in the mode of Steinke’s earlier, memorable novel Jesus Saves..."
Memphis Flyer

"Sister is Steinke’s beautifully written chronicle of girlhood in the ’70s, a time when things were changing, albeit slowly, for women in America. It’s a lush depiction of the decade, complete with fully interwoven details about the music, fashion, and politics of the era, but from the earnest and honest eyes of a curious teenaged girl."

"This book is one of the best of those that bring together several emerging trends: novella-length chapters, autobiographical and autofictional elements, and the maturation of the still-forming mind."

"Littered with pop culture, verging on the edge of danger, Jesse’s story in Sister Golden Hair is a mirror not just of a girl growing up in the 1970s, but of what it’s like to grow and change and try to comprehend a whole new world of influences. It’s the story of every daughter born from 1970 on."
Corduroy Books

"Here's a novel that gathers stunning momentum with every tiny perfect detail, and tracks the feelings of a girl and the mood of a country with the surest touch. With Sister Golden Hair, Darcey Steinke proves yet again that she is one of our most stylish and intense novelists."
—Sam Lipsyte, author of The Fun Parts

“[Sister Golden Hair] absolutely dazzled me . . . a searingly accurate portrait of a time and a way of thinking—a moment in American history when gleeful abandon had decayed into regular old abandon, and when new cultural freedoms suddenly seemed more dangerous than intoxicating.”
—Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things

"Sister Golden Hair is an indelible portrait of a place and time; an argument for adolescent girlhood as a fulcrum for the human predicament; and sentence by sentence, a brilliant piece of writing suffused with all Steinke's characteristic wit, darkness, and profundity. As always, Steinke shifts the terms: it isn't our capacity to be saved or go down in flames that's most at stake, but our willingess to hold the dangerous, bleak, exciting, full mess of life up to the light, to behold and bear its mottled grace. Steinke has become a master at this fearless beholding, and I trust her deeply, will go wherever she wants to take me."
—Maggie Nelson, author of Bluets

"A daring and arrestingly beautiful novel about what it’s like to walk through the world, wide awake, taking in radiant and terrifying messages about everything around you."
—Jenny Offill, author of Dept. of Speculation

Praise for Darcey Steinke

“I became riveted by Steinke's tone, a steady, lovely, hallowed, patient, things-in-themselves hum…[Easter Everywhere is] a delicately wrought little volume…This is a beautiful book.” —New York Times Book Review

“If the novel had an essence (eau de roman), a pithy core, Darcey Steinke would be its genius.” —Los Angeles Times

"Steinke writes some beautifully mystical descriptions of sexual encounters, and the conjunction of sex and the spirit, bodies and souls, is fascinating." —Washington Post

"Steinke's idiosyncratic, unsentimental fourth novel continues her examination of sexual and religious obsession...all the characters struggle to establish a relationship with God through contact with those around them, but Steinke's prose repeatedly hints at the divine in tangible things."—The New Yorker

"Erotic . . . beautifully crafted prose."—Time magazine

"Few authors understand America's darkest fears and obsessions like Darcey Steinke."—Village Voice

Easter Everywhere is an excellent account of a writer going head-to-head with the divine and finding some inner quiet—even in the darkest corners of her imagination.” —Time Out New York

“Darcey Steinke certainly knows her way around characters and’s a joy to see her inner life finally exposed.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Steinke unflinchingly recounts years of disillusionment in her stumble back toward faith.” —Entertainment Weekly

“She drew this atheist reader deep into her devotional tale, seducing with prose that is rich and filling, with images that are startling and deep.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review

About the Author

Darcey Steinke is the author of the memoir Easter Everywhere (a New York Times notable book) and the novels Milk, Jesus Saves, Suicide Blonde, and Up Through the Water (also a New York Times notable book). With Rick Moody, she edited Joyful Noise: The New Testament Revisited. Her books have been translated into ten languages, and her nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, the Boston Review, Vogue, Spin, The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the Guardian. Her web-story “Blindspot” was a part of the 2000 Whitney Biennial. She has been both a Henry Hoyns and a Stegner Fellow and Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi, and has taught at the Columbia University School of the Arts, Barnard, The American University of Paris, and Princeton. She lives in New York City.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Tin House Books; First Ed edition (October 14, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1935639943
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935639947
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #522,441 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Mary Lins TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 12, 2014
Format: Paperback
I was a young teen in 1972, just a little older than the narrator, Jesse, in Darcey Steinke’s new novel, “Sister Golden Hair”. Is this historical fiction? You be the judge, but for me it was a wonderful evocation of memories from that era:

• Hitchhiking Hippies!
• The controversy over the war in Vietnam
• Nixon
• Baby oil and iodine for a tan
• No seat belts in older cars
• Young girls loving, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” (I hope they still do!)
• “American Pie” on every radio station
• Macramé hanging plant holders
• Puka shell necklaces (why are they now the universal symbol of a jerk?)
• “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour” (I was obsessed with Cher, too!)
• Charles Manson
• “Dark Shadows” – Barnabas Collins
• “Jonathan Livingstone Seagull” (what WAS that?)

And this is just a partial list!

Jesse’s father is a former Methodist Minister who is now floundering on a quest for spirituality. The family has been booted from their parish and has moved into a duplex complex in what I’d call a “struggling class” area of Roanoke, Virginia. Jesse’s mother is most likely bi-polar and her moods (Jesse assigns them numbers) direct and dominate the family dynamic. We are introduced to the denizens of this complex via Jesse’s experiences.

Jesse, from 12 to 15 in this story, leads a rich and imaginative inner life. Maybe we all do at that age but many of us have forgotten. Steinke’s gorgeous and evocative writing, along with the pitch-perfect narrative voice of Jesse, treats the reader not only to a visit to the past, but also a visit into the mind of a burgeoning young woman.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By W. J. TAYLOR on October 9, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In many ways this novel reminds me of Atkinson's Life After Life, for Jesse, Steinke's young protagonist, undergoes different scenes in learning from experience after experience. This is not to say, however, that Sister Golden Hair uses fantastical elements as did Atkinson's novel. The situation in Sister is this: there are six sections, five of which are devoted to Jesse's sequential friends, four female and one male. Each friend pushes Jesse in one direction or another. Though all the sections are harrowing in their own fashion, I found the "Sheila" section, which goes over familiar Steinke ground of edgy sexuality, especially poignant in its ending. Sheila convinces Jesse to join her in mimicking Playboy Bunnies--the novel is set in the 70s--even to the point of homemade suits and Bunny tails. Sheila is obviously "acting out" as social workers say. As the action and plot in this section dictate, Sheila moves from being an elite girl in her school to being an outcast. At section's end, Jesse observes Sheila outside with the kids with “hunched shoulders” and dark circles under their eyes, “in an angle of sunlight, doing the Bunny stance all by herself.” Throughout the novel, Jesse’s mother has been someone for Jesse to avoid. Jesse measures her mother’s moods on a scale from 5 to 1, with 1 being the most volatile. Fittingly, though the mother never rates her own section, she becomes less and less prominent as Jesse matures. Jesse’s father, an ex-preacher, has also been fairly peripheral, presented as a hippie reading books on their couch, spouting dream interpretation and disillusioned religious pronouncements. Sister concludes in a section reserved for Jesse herself.Read more ›
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By colleen strohm on October 12, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I pre-ordered this book three times because I couldn't wait to start reading it, and now t am writing a review before I am even finished, because I am relishing the book so much I don't want it to end. Ever. Steinke has such an insight into the brain of a young girl. Her descriptions of the world are dead on. "Across a mangy field was a farmhouse that had wandered out of an earlier time period, gotten lost, and was now unable to find its way back." An amazing sentence! Her characters are so vivid that I feel I may run into them and, if I did, I would know them immediately. This is a novel of a particular time, which she captures, but also of a particular phase of life which had me believing it was written by a young teen. The book is sumptuous with feathered paper and a cover that folds over. Nice job Tin House! I have given away the other two copies to people I love who also love great writing.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Natalie Standiford on October 11, 2014
Format: Paperback
This novel is a 1970s dreamworld, spooky and atmospheric in Steinke's trademark off-kilter style. Deeply insightful about family, friendship, and especially girlhood, SISTER GOLDEN HAIR made me think about my own childhood and adolescence in a new way, and brought up memories I didn't know I'd forgotten. It's just so good.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 14, 2014
Format: Paperback
Sister Golden Hair is a coming-of-age book. Nothing new there; coming-of-age books, including Catcher in the Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird, Skippy Dies, She’s Come Undone, This Boy’s Life, A Prayer for Owen Meany and so on – have long been staples of American and world literature.

In fact, there are so many great coming-of-age books around that I always approach a new one somewhat skeptically. Fortunately, Darcey Steinke has a good story to tell and she tells it well.

Pre-teen Jesse is a child of the 1970s, growing up in Roanoke, Virginia. Her defrocked minister father and emotionally-fraught mother move to a duplex area, inhabited by a number of down-on-their-luck fragmented families. The 1970s takes center stage here: the fascination with Cher, TV rage (Welcome Back, Kotter and The Carol Burnett Show), Patty Hearst kidnapping, Nixon resignation, Playboy Bunny phenomenon, Lynyrd Skynyrd and more – all woven seamlessly into the narrative.

But the beauty of this book is its pitch-perfect character studies. Ms. Steinke, in a first-person narration, provides snapshot interactions with five characters: Sandy (“to me, she was as exotic as a lizard soaking up the sun”) in her leopard-print bikini is just about stone-broke and relies on her sleazy oral surgeon boyfriend to financially care for her. Jill is Jesse’s BFF with the “spark and intensity of a downed electrical wire”, eccentrically trying to survive despite an uncaring, absent mother.

There’s Sheila, the unapproachable beauty who is inappropriately acting out, and whose friendship comes at a steep price. Julie, who is her mother’s BFF, a wannabe dancer whose narcissism alienates her daughter yet holds Jesse’s mother in thrall.
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