Synopses & Reviews
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. As 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."
"When Georgette George and Ann Drayton meet in 1968 as freshmen roommates at Barnard College, Georgette marvels that her privileged, brilliant roommate envies Georgette's rough, impoverished childhood. Through the vehicle of this fascinating friendship, Nunez's sophisticated new novel (after For Rouenna) explores the dark side of the countercultural idealism that swept the country in the 1960s. Hyperbolic even for the times, Ann's passionate commitment to her beliefs unwavering despite the resentment from those she tries to help haunts Georgette, the novel's narrator, long after the women's lives diverge. In 1976, Ann lands in prison for shooting and killing a policeman in a misguided attempt to rescue her activist black boyfriend from a confrontation. The novel's generous structure also gracefully encompasses the story of Georgette's more conventional adult life in New York (she becomes a magazine editor, marries, and bears two children), plus that of Georgette's runaway junkie sister. Nunez reveals Ann's life in prison via a moving essay by one of her fellow inmates. 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) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"When it comes to the 1960's, the truth often seems like fiction, and one of the best ways to believe what you're reading is to know that the writer herself was there as an eyewitness....It's not hard to suspect she has plenty of good stories about her own life to tell." New York Times
"The narrative style is as clear and affecting as ever, capturing the viewpoints and inflections of various characters without losing its compelling intensity. What is most striking about the novel, though, is its strongly imagined portrait of the 1960s." Wall Street Journal
"Sigrid Nunez's The Last of Her Kind begins in that year of many kinds of infamy, 1968. Nunez understands so well the passions of this wise and foolish time that her novel could fruitfully be read by our current, depressingly untutored generation in its American history classes." Chicago Tribune
"What keeps the novel from being just a history lesson...is Nunez's exploration of the many ways women communicate, and how it's possible to think of a friend every day, and yet not talk to her for years." Christian Science Monitor
"Nunez captures the attitudes and rhetoric of this bygone age, and highlights the vulnerabilities of people caught up in a rapid recasting of social mores." Baltimore Sun
"Nunez moves far past the obvious cliches about activism to show a character who, while not always completely sympathetic, is nonetheless multifaceted and three-dimensional. Told in Georgette's graceful, introspective voice, this engrossing, beautiful novel will enthrall readers." Booklist
"Stunningly powerful." Library Journal
"Her spare voice...gives even the simplest descriptions of place and weather unsettling force and beauty." Village Voice
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. A decade later, Ann is convicted of murder, and Georgette finds more complicated and mysterious forces at work.
A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the YearA Christian Science Monitor Best Book of the Year
Ann Drayton and Georgette George meet as freshmen roommates at Barnard College in 1968. Ann, who comes from a wealthy New England family, is brilliant and idealistic. Georgette, who comes from a bleak town in upstate New York, is mystified by Ann's romanticization of the underprivileged class, which Georgette herself is hoping college will enable her to escape. An intense and difficult friendship is born.
Years after a fight ends their friendship, Ann is convicted of a violent crime. As Georgette struggles to understand what has happened, she is led back to their shared history and to an examination of the revolutionary era in which the two women came of age. Only now does she discover how much her early encounter with this extraordinary, complicated woman has determined her own path in life, and why, after all this time, as she tells us, "I have never stopped thinking about her."
About the Author
Sigrid Nunez is the author of four novels including A Feather on the Breath of God and For Rouenna. She has received a Whiting Writers' Award, the Rome Prize in Literature, and a Berlin Prize Fellowship. She lives in New York City.
Reading Group Guide
1. 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?
2. Issues of race and class are major themes in this novel. As you read about the big fight that ends Georgette and Anns friendship, did you find yourself taking sides? Do you believe, as Ann does, that Georgettes comment about Kwames blue eyes is racist? Does this final rupture seem inevitable to you, or do you see a way the friendship could have been saved?
3. After Anns murder trial, one juror remarks: "She just did not seem to like white folks." What is your view of Anns 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?
4. 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 shes in denial about the violence done to her. What is your assessment of Georgettes behavior at the time of the rape and later, when she looks back on it?
5. Consider the attorney Lester Prysocks arguments in Anns defense. How forceful do you find them? How persuasive do you think he is when he uses Anns childhood to explain aspects of her adult behavior? According to Georgettes friend Cleo, Ann "just wanted to kill someone." Do you believe this? How persuasive do you find the defenses argument about the role of "the N word" in this crime?
6. Georgette insists that its 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?
7. 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 Anns prison mates story help illuminate the mystery of Anns extraordinary character?
8. 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 Georgettes relationship with her sister, Solange?
9. Do you think Turner and Georgette have a moral obligation to tell Ann about their love affair? How do you view Turners reasons for leaving Georgette and the way he goes about it?
10. Anns 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?