The year is 1974/5. Genna Meade comes from a liberal American family. Her father is a prominent radical lawyer, preachy in private as well as in public life, revered by some and hated by others, and has made a name for having helped draft-refusers from the recently ended Vietnam War. He is often away from home, his whereabouts not known even to his family. Genna's mother is an unhappy and lonely middle aged hippy with a drug problem. Genna herself is a fresher at Schuyler College, a liberal arts women's college in New York state, and in her application form had said she would like to share rooms with someone from an ethnic minority. Her room mate is a black scholarship student, Minette Swift. Minette is an unattractive, unhappy, touchy, fiercely private and intensely religious young woman who rejects friendly approaches, however hard Genna tries; and she is unpopular even with the other black girls in the dormitory of Haven House.
The first half of the novel has little plot development: settings are sharply observed, and it concentrates on bringing to life these people and their relationships with each other, very successfully, if perhaps by means of a little too much repetition. In particular, one begins to wonder how Genna can put up with Minette's repeated rebuffs. She feels protective of her and at the same time is afraid of her, and she feels guilt, inculcated by her father, about being white.
Then, half way through the book, the story becomes increasingly tense and sinister, as both racism and radicalism move more centre-stage. We have been told in the very first paragraph of the book that Minette will die; and yet her last day, graphically as it is described, is not the end of the book. There is an even more horrendous and quite unexpected tragedy to follow in the Epilogue. To say any more would be a spoiler.
A powerful and haunting book which draws you deeply into what it describes.