bigWOWO rating: Literary Fiction Gold
I don’t remember where I first heard of The Virgins by Pamela Erens, but I picked it up for the sole reason that it featured an Asian American male as a main character. The story is written from the perspective of a senior at a boarding school named Bruce Bennett-Jones, who develops an obsession with a Jewish American female student named Aviva Rossner, a junior with childhood issues. Bennett-Jones’s obsession develops to the point that he tries to rape her. Aviva instead becomes involved with a Korean American senior named Seung Jung. The story of their sensual relationship unfolds as they deal with issues of class, money, race, gender, and power. Erens adeptly uses language to paint an intense picture of life at their boarding school. This was an excellent novel. It would be no exaggeration to call it a masterpiece.
What I especially loved about Erens’s style was how she builds her characters by incorporating small interactions with the characters’ families. Aviva’s mother is a professor, Seung’s older brother is the favorite child, Bennett-Jones refers to his father as “The Judge.” We find out early in the novel that the story will not end well for Seung, and yet Erens manages to continue to build the characters as they head towards their end, urging the reader to pray against the inevitable. Seung is a full, three dimensional character who struggles with his family’s acceptance as he also struggles to become a man. Aviva is fascinating and complex, dealing with family problems as well as her ambiguous feelings towards Seung. Bennett-Jones is an excellent blend of evil, opportunism, lust, and imagination.
I think readers will love this novel. It is written in literary style. It is a stunningly realistic portrayal of status and money with a full, well-developed, Asian American male character. Check it out.