It’s 1968. The prestigious but cash-strapped Goode School in the town of Cape Wilde is run by its aging, philandering headmaster, Goddard Byrd, known to both his friends and his enemies as God. With Cape Wilde engulfed by the social and political storms of integration, coeducation and the sexual revolution, God has confidently promised coeducation “over my dead body.” And then, through a clerical error, the Goode School admits its first female student: Carole Faust, a brilliant, intractable fifteen-year-old black girl.
What does it mean to be the First Girl?
Carolyn Cooke has written a ferociously intelligent, richly sensual novel about the lives of girls and women, the complicated desperation of daughters without fathers and the erosion of paternalistic power in an elite New England town on the cusp of radical social change. Remarkable for the precision of its language, the incandescence of its images, and the sly provocations of its moral and emotional predicaments, Daughters of the Revolution is a novel of exceptional force and beauty.
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This eBook edition includes a Reading Group Guide.
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He begins with a bang at the center of his story. It’s spring of that revolutionary year, not too far in. Meringues of snow line the sidewalks, but a freshness cuts the air. Goddard Byrd—known to his friends and enemies as “God”—has just emerged from an afternoon at the Parker House Hotel, a virile, uncircumcised male of his class, upbringing and era. His prostate gland and his praeputium have not yet been removed, and he is unburdened, just now, of Puritanism’s load. He has drunk a glass of gin, then lain with Mrs. Viktor Rebozos—whom he must remember to call Aileen—and both of them are better for this exercise.
In bed, she tells him he is a bear, all paws and claws. She insults him, purrs, climbs on top. She wants to know if he could be any wild animal, which would he be?
An animal? He would be a tiger!
(She would be a gazelle.)
He likes himself better this way, his natural shyness tempered by adrenaline. She is more fl exible than he, more at ease, depending on the occasion—more pliable. Women are pliable, he thinks; they revel in the shifting relations required by husbands,
children, lovers, others. (How can this be a matter of opinion?) He can’t tell Mrs. Rebozos these things; she might eat him alive.
They lie together in the fading afternoon light, the March grisaille. “The most beautiful words in the English language are sex in the afternoon,” she tells him, and he can’t, in the moment, find reason to correct her. Mrs. Rebozos’s tongue darts suddenly across his left nipple, and God rises with an animal roar, his body fire and ice.
She smiles. “I read that in The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana.”
“Do it again,” says God.
Her tongue and lips move excruciatingly over his body, describing ancient erotic techniques from the Orient. He rises obediently as a snake in a basket. God lifts his head to look at her, and feels an organ breach (liver? spleen?). She is so gamine, indeed! She looks like a boy. Almost. Short hair. Hoops in her ears. All of it signifying what? Maybe nothing. Eventually, he pins her to her back, which she seems to enjoy, and humps her in the familiar way, running breathlessly toward a goal, which he reaches.
“You’re beginning to get it, my earnest missionary,” she tells him afterward. “Let’s hope it’s not too late.”
They share a plate of cold roast beef, a famous roll. Naked, quivering a little, she wraps a blue knit scarf around her shoulders. “My dark secret,” she says. “All my life I’ve been drawn to misogynist coots like you. Like a taste for black coffee—incredible when you think about it.” Even God is surprised that a free-spirited woman such as Mrs. Rebozos would so defi antly stand beside an old man, in his shadow, eat meat with him and be his prize!
“I have to go,” he says into her ear. “You could stay all afternoon; you could have a bath.”
“Just a quick shower,” she says. “I have a women’s thing. Last week, we inspected our cervixes. Mine looked like an eye.
God tries to conceal his horror. At three, he descends, leaving Mrs. Rebozos to enjoy the rented room, whose extravagant price stabs him when he thinks of it. (In spite of the evidence, he imagines her as feminine, passive, mysterious and inert. Women
in their beds, Rorschach blots on luminous sheets.)
He advances through the lobby and rolls into the street like a well-oiled man on wheels. The atmosphere of hostility and depravity beyond the doors of the Parker House stings him like a slap. The street is fi lthy; even the city fathers are off their game, lax or stoned. Girls in paper dresses—temporary dresses for temporary girls—giggle at him. He’s harmless, they think, the last of a dying breed.
God passes gently into a haze of mustard-purple-maroon and marijuana fumes. In spite of the expense of the hotel and the crudeness of the street, he feels deeply at home in this world. It is divided and antagonistic, fi lled with human hatreds bred by race, religion and economics; he loves it anyway.
Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group's discussion of Daughters of the Revolution, the debut novel from acclaimed writer Carolyn Cooke.
1. Who is the main character in this novel? Why are the EV sections told in first person?
2. There are several unusual character names here: God, Heck, Mei-Mei, EV, Pilgrim. What is the metaphorical significance of the names?
3. For God, “loss was one theme: the headship of the school, the battle over girls, memory, prostate, lung, teeth, foreskin.” What are some other themes in the novel?
4. What does the title mean? Who are the daughters of the revolution?
5. Discuss the class issues raised throughout the book. What effect does money have in determining one’s place in society as opposed to gender or ethnicity?
6. Why isn’t the story told chronologically? Discuss how the author plays with time.
7. What do you imagine happens to Archer Rebozos in the years following the accident?
8. Goddard Byrd swears that the Goode School will admit girls “over my dead body.” Is God a misogynist?
9. God sees a phrase written in graffiti: “Are we not drawn onward we few drawn onward to new era?” What does it mean? Mrs. Rebozos points out that it’s a palindrome. Why is this significant?
10. Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick comes up again and again over the course of the novel. Carole Faust compares herself to the whale, calling herself a “fearful symbol.” What point is the author making with this connection? What is the role of literature in the novel?
11. In what ways does Carole represent the radical changes of the 1960s?
12. EV says, “Mei-Mei thought my father’s death was a story about accidents, threats, loss, abandonment, risk. ‘Be careful,’ she used to tell me . . . ‘Don’t die.’” It sounds like she thinks her father’s death was about none of those things. What did it mean to her?
13. Several times, we are told that Mrs. O’Greefe had her own nipple grafted onto her forehead. What is the significance of this act?
14. Discuss EV’s trip to the Caribbean island, which ends with the news of her roommate’s murder. What does the reader learn during this section of the book? Why is the reckless EV safe while the cautious Jess dies?
15. Mei-Mei points out the similarities between Pilgrim and God. Why does EV choose a man like Pilgrim?
16. After she has sex with Pilgrim, Mei-Mei wonders if she had ever been a good mother to EV. Do you think she was? Why does she sleep with Pilgrim?
17. Why does God get circumcised? How does it bring about his downward spiral?
18. Discuss the character of Mrs. Graves. Why is she so devoted to God? What does she get out of their relationship?
19. In her speech at the end of the novel, Carole says that God is “the secret of my success.” How so? Do you think he knew this?
20. When Mei-Mei tells Carole about Heck’s accident and the life jacket, EV is shocked, because it “changed our whole story into a story about power and economics, about our lesser equipment and poorer tools. I’d misunderstood everything.” How does this one detail make such a difference? Why hadn’t Mei-Mei told EV about it before?