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Symptomatic Paperback – Bargain Price, February 1, 2005

3.7 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A young biracial woman's postcollege year in New York proves psychologically challenging in Senna's muddled second novel. The unnamed narrator has landed a prestigious fellowship and a job as a reporter at a big New York magazine, not to mention a "strange lovely" new boyfriend who moves her into his apartment faster than she can say "nice place." But when Andrew-who thinks she's white-introduces her to his Andover pals, racist comments send her on a hunt for independence and a place of her own. An older co-worker, Greta Hicks, comes to the rescue with a sublet offer from her hairdresser's cousin; it's in a "transitional" Brooklyn neighborhood, but, hey, the rent's cheap. The narrator, habitually musing on her secret history, slowly gets used to Brooklyn style as Greta insinuates herself into her life. Her love life rebounds when she's assigned a story on talented Ivers Greene, whom Greta calls "the great ghetto artiste" and who becomes the narrator's new beau. But Greta's being creepy-she suggests they give each other bikini waxes, for one thing-and then she starts spying on the narrator, berating her, stalking her, etc. The first half of Senna's novel works in places, particularly when she outlines her narrator's growing sense of alienation from Andrew, her fatigue with racial politics and her difficulties in adapting to New York life. But the second half turns increasingly lurid and cartoonish, particularly when Greta's relationship to the wild previous occupant of the narrator's apartment is revealed. Senna addressed similar issues of race and identity with verve and panache in Caucasian, but this follow-up shows signs of the sophomore slump.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Senna's fine debut novel, Caucasia (1998), tells the story of a young girl struggling with her mixed-race heritage. The unnamed narrator in Senna's second novel also has a black father and a white mother, but this is a strained and peculiar tale, one that could be pitched as a tragic mulatto meets Psycho in Brooklyn. The narrator has left Berkeley for New York with a fellowship position at a prestigious magazine. Low on funds and all alone, she sublets a grungy Brooklyn apartment at the suggestion of a co-worker, Greta, a woman twice her age but of the same ambiguous racial identity. The apartment has a very bad vibe as the absent tenant's unpaid bills pile up and men leave obscene messages. Then Greta goes from being chummy and eccentric to pushy, possessive, and, finally, terrifying. Senna's strung-tight and relentlessly creepy novel features some ludicrous plot elements, but it is suspenseful, and the anguish her vividly realized mixed-race characters feel when confronted with hostility from both ends of the racial spectrum is, sadly, all too authentic. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead (February 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594480672
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594480676
  • ASIN: B000H2N8UA
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,026,923 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Danzy Senna's novel "Symptomatic" is really two novels in one. The first describes a young, attractive biracial female who is fighting a losing battle in her search for identity while living and working in New York City. This is a struggle that many of us have faced at one time or another, and Senna does a fine job placing the reader into the psyche of the unnamed narrator who seems to be disconnected from the life that she is living.

The second part of the book is the narrator's relationship with another older biracial female, co-worker Greta Hicks, who takes an unnatural interest in the narrator's life, and becomes increasingly bizarre and downright psychopathic. Although this character adds tension to the novel's atmosphere, I believe that the author might have been more concerned at this point about writing a Hollywood script as opposed to a superior novel. That being said, I believe that Danzy Senna is a talented author, and I look forward to reading "Caucasia," as well as her future offerings.
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Format: Hardcover
Ambiguity of identity and self-presentation colors the narrative thread of Danzy Senna's disturbing second novel, Symptomatic. The protagonist (and first-person narrator) of this highly readable, psychologically astute fiction is genetically/culturally Black but easily mistaken by others to be White. This disjuncture is highly problematic socially, or so we are led to believe. Although it would be easy enough to interpret the unnamed narrator's existential malaise as arising by virtue of the racial limbo she finds herself in, a deeper reading of the text suggests that the young woman at the center of this story of unfulfilled longing is misinterpreted by others precisely because she has never defined herself adequately beyond the issue of race. So even though race provides a screen upon which to assign blame for feelings of alienation and otherness, a basic, and more complete lack of self-understanding is what actually creates the undertow which wreaks havoc and confounds. Symptomatic lays out the structure of an illness of the soul in an individual who confuses the surface of a dilemma with its root cause. All the data for a proper diagnosis is contained in the keenly observed details of the experience of the narrator, but her conclusions are off the mark. Race is simply not always a sufficient explanation for forms of distress which beg larger questions not so facilely answered. Senna never directs the reader's attention to this level of comprehension of her protagonist's plight, but her skill as a writer fashions the subtext with exquisite subtlety and power. We feel for the nameless woman not because she is divided between the experience of being Black but seeming White. But because she is victim to the societally contrived convenience of going no further with her analysis of her situation.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
The two main characters of Danzy Senna's, Symptomatic, are both biracial like the author, but make no mistake: this book is a thriller. A lunatic of any race is still just as crazy. Greta Hicks is a psycho first and biracial second, so she isn't the stereotypical tragic mulatto. We wish she would quietly drink herself into oblivion and leave other folks alone, but no. This is the story of a psychotic's do-over, but this time she has a hostage.

The narrator is a recent college grad from Berkeley, California, her home town. She's moved to New York as the recipient of a prestigious journalism internship. When we first meet her (we never learn her name), she's living in an old women's boarding house but soon to move in with her boyfriend Andrew. One night at a party of Andrew's friends from Andover, our narrator is privy to the racist banter that can go on when people don't realize they're in mixed company. And she is mixed, racially mixed, that is, and light-skinned and straight-haired enough to pass for white. She sees a side of Andrew that she'd perhaps secretly feared was there, and when she does, she decides to leave him. Now all she has to do is find a place to live in Manhattan where she knows no one and has no connections. Enter Greta Hicks, a coworker, who knows of a sublet that's available.

We see a young woman who's bright enough to be a journalism fellowship winner but who's unsure of herself. It's this insecurity that allows Greta to get her hooks into the narrator. What begins as payment of gratitude evolves into an uneasy and somewhat forced friendship and spirals down from there.

Senna has a strong sense of the stark bleakness of New York in winter, the nothing sky and the bite of cold.
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Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed this novel. I felt as I read that I was experiencing a dream. The story reminded me of "The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man" which was also about a person of mixed heritage and how they fit, or don't fit into society. I like Danzy Senna's style of writing, which for the most part keeps the story rather plain yet revealing of subtle everyday changes. While I think her first novel was brilliant, I can't say this novel fell short at all. Work after something particularly well crafted always seems lesser than the previous work. But this story right from the beginning captivated me and made me want to know where it was going. I must say the ending wasn't that surprising but pleasing all the same because you felt like you took a journey and it led you to a place of interest. I say ignore the negative reviews and give this book a chance because it might move you more than you think.
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