Sarah Lyall in National Post:
If anyone is insane in Class, Lucinda Rosenfeld’s stiletto-sharp new novel about the quandaries and neuroses that consume the lives of a small swath of privileged white public-school parents in Brooklyn, it’s Karen. At 45, she works for a nonprofit organization that provides food to poor children, and she is about as self-conscious, self-involved and self-questioning a person as you’re likely to meet. It’s the rare encounter or decision that doesn’t fling her into a whirlpool of semantic, emotional and sociological analysis and second-guessing about whether she (as well as everybody else) is conveying the correct impression and living the correct way. Here she is described, for instance, after trying and failing to imbue her daughter with the requisite degree of empathy for an African-American classmate, Empriss, who lives in a homeless shelter.
“What was Karen doing wrong?” Rosenfeld writes. “She feared the only thing she’d accomplished by sending her child to a mixed-income school was to make Ruby feel venomous toward at-risk children. Or was she expecting too much from an 8-year-old?” The novel is called Class, but it’s just as preoccupied with race, and Rosenfeld deserves a great deal of credit for taking on this minefield of a subject. Karen and her “chronically underemotive” husband, Matt, a low-income-housing advocate who is “currently earning zero dollars per week,” try to live according to their values. This effort entails, among other things, sending their daughter to a public school, Betts, where white students are in the minority. It’s an admirable ideal, but Karen has a hard time with the ensuing reality. She’s reflexively dismayed at various elements of the African-American experience that she witnesses among Ruby’s classmates – the “beaded braids, buzz cuts and neon backpacks”; the names, like Sa’Ryah, “with their apostrophes, dashes, purposeful misspellings and randomly added letters”; – and then reflexively worried that she’s at heart a racist. But Mather, the predominantly white public school a few blocks away – where Karen impulsively enrolls Ruby (with the help of some forged documents) after an unpleasant incident with a bully named Jayyden, and where the children have names like Harper and Hudson – is hardly better.