The Last of Her Kind (Paperback)
Picador, 9780312425944, 400pp.
Publication Date: December 12, 2006
The paths of two women from different walks of life intersect amid counterculture of the 1960s in this haunting and provocative novel from the National Book Award-winning author of The Friend
Named a Best Book of the Year by the San Francisco Chronicle and the Christian Science Monitor
Sigrid Nunez's The Last of Her Kind introduces two women who meet as freshmen on the Columbia campus in 1968. Georgette George does not know what to make of her brilliant, idealistic roommate, Ann Drayton, and her obsessive disdain for the ruling class into which she was born. She is mortified by Ann's romanticization of the underprivileged class, which Georgette herself is hoping college will enable her to escape. After the violent fight that ends their friendship, Georgette wants only to forget Ann and to turn her attention to the troubled runaway kid sister who has reappeared after years on the road. Then, in 1976, Ann is convicted of murder. At first, Ann's fate appears to be the inevitable outcome of her belief in the moral imperative to "make justice" in a world where "there are no innocent white people." But, searching for answers to the riddle of this friend of her youth, Georgette finds more complicated and mysterious forces at work.
The novel's narrator Georgette illuminates the terrifying life of this difficult, doomed woman, and in the process discovers how much their early encounter has determined her own path, and why, decades later, as she tells us, "I have never stopped thinking about her."
About the Author
Praise For The Last of Her Kind: A Novel…
“A brilliant, dazzling, daring novel. Nunez has taken the old American dream and stood it on its head.” —The Boston Globe
“A passionate honesty grips the heart of The Last of Her Kind. . . . [A] subtle and profoundly moving novel about friendship, romantic idealism, and shame.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“A book that feels . . . like the discovery of a crucial document, the riveting archive of the lives of the last of all kinds of dreamers.” —Newsday
“An unflinching examination of justice, race, and political idealism that brings to mind Philip Roth's American Pastoral and the tenacious intelligence of Nadine Gordimer.” —The New York Times
“A remarkable and disconcerting vision of a troubled time in American history.” —The New Yorker
“Sigrid Nunez teaches an honors-level survey course in the sexual, political, and cultural movements that shaped the thinking (and rocked the world) of so many boomer women. Nunez's voice is unflinching and intimate, her novelistic structure as invitingly informal as jottings in a journal.” —Entertainment Weekly
“A compelling account of the 1960s and their aftermath, a carefully written and discerning narrative with closely drawn portraits of two prototypical yet unique women trying to construct a friendship across an unbridgeable class divide.” —The New York Times Book Review
“[A] powerful and acute social novel, perhaps the finest yet written about that peculiar generation of young Americans who believed their destiny was to shape history. . . . Don't miss it.” —Salon.com
“A masterful construction of the troubled conscience of the era and its aftermath.” —Kirkus Reviews
“There's much to admire here: incisive analysis about class, race, and the prison system, authoritative writing about the late '60s cultural landscape and lots of recognizable cultural markers of the time.” —Kansas City Star
“Rich in historical detail, this unpredictable novel zeroes in on what it means to renounce class privilege and sacrifice oneself in the service of human betterment. Stunningly powerful, it is highly recommended.” —Library Journal
“This is a novel about idealism and also about race relations, class, madness, rock music, and the true nature of love. It's a tribute to the skill and sensitivity of author Sigrid Nunez that The Last of Her Kind has something revelatory to say about each of these subjects. Decades from now, historians would do well to consult this book to get a true sense of how the upheavals of the late 1960s reverberated through the lives of young Americans from one who experienced this social earthquake firsthand.” —The Baltimore Sun
“Told in a pastiche of styles and jump-cuts from past to present, The Last of Her Kind serves as both an homage to--and an indictment of--an era. . . . Immensely refreshing.” —Boldtype
“Ambitiously conceived.” —The Washington Post Book World
“This engrossing, beautiful novel will enthrall readers.” —Booklist (starred review)
“By the end of this novel--propelled by rich, almost scholarly prose--all the parts come together to capture the violent idealism of the times while illuminating a moving truth about human nature.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- The Last of Her Kind is partly about the special bond that can form between young people who meet when they leave home for college. In what ways is the relationship between Georgette George and Ann Drayton typical of such friendships? In what ways is it different? Are there characteristics about it that seem to you to belong specifically to friendships between women? How well do you feel Georgette and Ann understand each other as friends?
- Issues of race and class are major themes in this novel. As you read about the big fight that ends Georgette and Ann’s friendship, did you find yourself taking sides? Do you believe, as Ann does, that Georgette’s comment about Kwame’s blue eyes is racist? Does this final rupture seem inevitable to you, or do you see a way the friendship could have been saved?
- After Ann’s murder trial, one juror remarks: “She just did not seem to like white folks.” What is your view of Ann’s obsession with “white skin privilege,” and how has it shaped her life? What do you think her parents could have done to help her come to terms with her burden of guilt as she was growing up? What would you say they did wrong?
- When Georgette is raped, she deals with it in a way that is described as not unusual for the era, the late sixties, in which it occurred. Years later, when she talks about that experience to a group of young women, they appear shocked by her attitude and suggest that she’s in denial about the violence done to her. What is your assessment of Georgette’s behavior at the time of the rape and later, when she looks back on it?
- Consider the attorney Lester Prysock’s arguments in Ann’s defense. How forceful do you find them? How persuasive do you think he is when he uses Ann’s childhood to explain aspects of her adult behavior? According to Georgette’s friend Cleo, Ann “just wanted to kill someone.” Do you believe this? How persuasive do you find the defense’s argument about the role of “the N word” in this crime?
- Georgette insists that it’s wrong to compare Ann with Patty Hearst, as so many people in the novel do. Why does Ann herself vehemently reject the comparison? How do you imagine she would distinguish herself from Hearst or from other political radicals, such as the Weathermen? What does she have in common with such people?
- It is undeniable that Ann was in an extremely difficult position when she shot at the police officers. Can you imagine how you might have felt in her place? What do you think would have been the right thing to do? Can there be any justification for the shooting? Do you think the punishment Ann receives is just? How does Ann’s prison mate’s story help illuminate the mystery of Ann’s extraordinary character?
- Georgette speaks of her guilt at having turned her back on her home and family. Is this guilt justified? Under what circumstances do you think a person is justified in abandoning his or her family? Do you think Georgette sees her own past clearly? How do you see Georgette’s relationship with her sister, Solange?
- Do you think Turner and Georgette have a moral obligation to tell Ann about their love affair? How do you view Turner’s reasons for leaving Georgette and the way he goes about it?
- Ann’s life story has been described as “tragicomic.” What do you think this means? Many people would say that she had ruined or wasted her life. Do you agree? Discuss the ways the various characters in the novel set about searching to make “a good life” for themselves. How does each one define this goal? Which characters seem to you to have been most successful in finding what they were looking for?