A young woman moves to New York City for what promises to be a dream job. Displaced, she feels unsure of her fit in the world. Then comes a look of recognition, a gesture of friendship from an older woman named Greta who shares the same difficult-to-place color of skin. On common ground, a tenuous alliance grows between two women in racial limbo. So too, does the older woman's unnerving obsession, leading to a collision of two lives spiraling out of control. A beautifully written novel, at once suspenseful, erotic, and tantalizingly clever, Symptomatic is a groundbreaking contribution to the literature of racial identity.
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.