White Fur by Jardine Libaire, review by Bruce Jacobs
The character descriptions in Jardine Libaire's second novel, White Fur (after Here Kitty Kitty), are so pithy and bona fide that she could have wrapped her stormy 1980s love story into a tight narrative verse. But then we would miss her talent for building the slowly intensifying, steamy relationship between two New Haven kids from divergent backgrounds. Chiseled Jamey Balthazar Hyde (third-generation heir to investment bank Hyde, Moore & Kent) lives in an off-campus townhouse, one of those princes "raised in a pod, incubated in the thick and slippery gel of legacy," whose Christmas holidays in Southampton meant "caviar and Veuve Clicquot, black velvet, giant fir trees and eggnog, Labradors with red ribbons around their necks, tangerines in stockings." Behind the townhouse, in a bare squat where "the fridge door is scaled in decals," lanky Elise Perez watches Jamey day and night. She's "a greyhound, curved to run, aerodynamic, beaten, fast as f**k, born to lose... half-white and half-Puerto Rican, childless." They meet on a beer run, and before long, the privileged Jamey and raw, risky Elise dive into an edgy, rugby scrum of a sexual relationship. This can go only two ways: one, an Elise fantasy of a forever love that her single mom, "a ghetto Mae West," never had--or two, the other way.
To her credit, Libaire doesn't let this Romeo and Juliet tale follow a predictable wrong-side-of-the-tracks lovers path. Instead, Elise carries the novel with her fresh impetuosity and fragile sensibility in the face of a world she's never tasted--nor much wants. Their relationship heats up and Jamey drops out of Yale to whisk Elise off to Manhattan's East Village. In her ever-present white fur ("knee-length rabbit coat with its vinyl belt, the Esther stitched in violet in the taffeta lining") which she got in a swap for a can of Pringles on a Greyhound bus, Elise roams the streets and bodegas with her stray dog, Buck, smoking and stopping to shoot baskets in empty courts while Jamey works an intern job at Sotheby's. Until he up and quits. Legally renouncing his inheritance, Jamey grabs a gumball ring and takes Elise to the courthouse. When the Hydes get wind of it, Jamey's stern father and grandparents Binkie and Bat bring on the power of old money to try to bust up the impassioned lovers. In their own ways, neither can escape the family and lives that made them who they are. Libaire's White Fur is a love story with raunch, obsession and heart, told with frothy originality.
Bruce Jacobs's review first appeared in Shelf Awareness.