'Sorority' By Genevieve Sly Crane Is A Dark & Hypnotic Novel About The Aftermath Of A Sister's Death
Greek life on American college campuses is like a boarded up house everyone is dying to see inside of, but too afraid to enter. It's a culture shrouded in mystery and secrecy, one weighed down under its own sordid history that includes hazing, sexual abuse, binge drinking, and drug overdose. To understand it, they say, you have to be a part of it — that is, unless you pick up Genevieve Sly Crane’s dark and hypnotic debut, Sorority.
If you're looking for a novel with a neatly packaged ending, Sorority is not the book for you. But, if you're looking for mesmerizing prose and fascinating female characters, then you're going to want to move Crane's debut to the top of your reading list. Out now from Scout Press, Sorority is an bewitching collection of linked stories about a group of contemporary women who all belong to the same sorority house at an unnamed New England university. Each one troubled in their own way, these sisters are anything but the pearl-clutching, plaid-wearing girls of sorority recruitment videos you've seen before. They're captivating and damaged young women grappling with the social pressure of Greek life, the academic rigor of college, and the armfuls of baggage each one brings into the house from their lives on and off campus.
At the center of it all is Margot, a sister who died in the house. In each short chapter, which serve as standalone stories about specific sisters that take place before, during, and after college, readers get a glimpse of how Margot's death affects the other women in her sorority. For some sisters, like Margot's roommate and lover Deidre, her death casts a shadow over everything else, tainting both past memories and the present moment with painful grief and regret. For others, like Kyra who is consumed by an unplanned pregnancy that threatens to derail her entire future, Margot is a background figure that adds depth to their own story.
Throughout the multivoice narrative, Sorority peers into the lives, minds, and hearts of incredibly complex women that readers won't be able to stop thinking about. Without pulling any punches, Crane dives headfirst into the dark waters that is Greek life, never shying away from showing the deviant side of sisterhood, the sting of betrayal, the pressures from co-eds, or the temptation of drugs and alcohol. The effect not only creates a compulsively readable book, but a compelling examination of female friendship and the unsteady transition from girl to woman.
By turns wickedly humorous and deeply haunting, Sorority isn't a whodunit, but Crane's prose turns it into something of a addictive page-turner. The writing throughout the book is beautiful and darkly enchanting, but the strongest and most unforgettable chapters are those from Deidre's point of view.
In describing the mental preparation that goes into getting ready for her job as a naked sushi model, Deidre takes readers into the darkest, most complex corners of her mind. As not only Margot's sorority sister, but also her roommate and her lover, Deidre struggles particularly hard with her death and the guilt it makes her feel. Her chapters, which include unflinching descriptions of her pain and heartache, are among the most lyrical and the most profound.
"I've been looking for her. Not that I believe in reincarnation, not logically. Not that I'm religious. But surely, out of six billion, her print may be identical in someone else's palm. It is also not completely impossible to discover her in another person, another object. Unlikely, but not impossible," she says in one chapter. In another, she puts it more bluntly but no less beautifully. "She did not seem dead. She seemed taken. She seemed transfigured."
In one of the most moving scenes, Deidre describes her attempts to cope with trauma and preserve her memories of Margot:
"I wrote it down, all of it, how she looked before: the black hair, the brown eyes, how she wore too many green shirts and not enough yellow, which was her color, how she was mean and spiteful and funny and tender. How she looked when I found her. I wrote it down and made it mine and then turned the page backward. I was a flipbook story. Over and over I brought her back and killed her, trying to find an answer in the syntax, trying to find a way to give her a better ending.
But not every memory could be transcribed. The sneaky ones were insidious, especially if I was unfocused or drowsy, and soon they were misshapen so that in one we were smoking on the patio in winter and in another we were standing in the stairwell in red initiation robes and in others I couldn't see her hands anymore, or her eyes, and in this one she was raking with me, the air suspended in orange, the geese lazy and roosting, and the trees floated overhead, trunkless, like clouds. We stuffed piles into bags like thieves in a heist, stealing our own landscape, and she stared at me in the strange orange of my memory, telling me to wave at the man in the window, a fully realized person, an unfinished ghost."
Sorority has everything you would expect from a book with its name — pledge hazing and nasty nicknames , creepy traditions and secret rituals, eating disorders and mental breakdowns, binge drinking and rampant drug use, campus sexual assault and a tragic death of a sister — but Crane's book it is so much more than that. It's a deft and thoughtful look at the dangerous journey girl to woman, one fraught with heartbreak, tragedy, and trauma.
When you come to the end of Sorority you will not find a happy ending, or really, any concrete ending at all. What will find, though, is the sudden urge to dive in and read it all over again, because stories like these get under your skin and never quite leave you alone again.