Kirkus Review of “Green Doll”

Author: Doug Power January 12, 2014



In Power’s drama (Being White: A Memoir, 2012), a black woman starts a relationship with a rich white man, who may help her and her family have a better life.

Linda Alger, working as a nursing home orderly, hopes to earn a nursing degree so that she and her 7-year-old son, Vardaman, can move out of the projects. But a chance encounter with the wealthy Alexander Aspen, the son of one of the patients, ignites romance—and the possibility of a new place to live. Their relationship, however, is far from easy. It’s complicated by people’s perceptions of them; two thugs set on getting some of Alexander’s money; and the looming trial of Donnyell, a neighbor wrongly accused of pushing Vardaman down an elevator shaft. The novel subtly examines racism. Prejudice is less overt than in the 1950s and ’60s but still there in the story’s 1989 setting; e.g., Linda’s cruel supervisor complains to a nurse about disciplining “them,” clearly referring to African-Americans. Linda and Alexander share compelling similarities (both are lost souls) as well as differences: Linda evidently thinks that money will solve everything, like getting Vardaman into an expensive school, while Alexander strives for a “simpler life.” Taken as a whole, the plot is clear-cut and unassailable: One event—Vardaman letting authorities believe that Donnyell is responsible for his elevator accident—powerfully affects the lives of those around the little boy. But it’s difficult not to see two distinct stories, one from Vardaman’s point of view and the other a contemporary spin on Romeo and Juliet. Both Linda and Alexander often come across as unsympathetic or disengaged. He’s nonresponsive about his apparent debt; she’s prone to expressing anger with a plate of hot spaghetti, but it’s a gloriously complex relationship that readers will find impossible to pass over.

A thoughtful exploration of racism and the multifaceted characters are the biggest draws in this rigorous family melodrama.

Pub Date:Oct. 11th, 2013
Page count:324pp
Program:Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:Dec. 16th, 2013

Advance look at Green Doll

Author: Doug Power May 7, 2013

It was twelve-fifteen on Tuesday by the time she locked her car in the nursing home parking lot and went in the back door near the dumpster hoping no one would see.  But Charlene was standing outside her small office down the hall just as if she’d expected it.


“My son got hurt in the elevator,” she said, taking her coat off fast to stop it being a coat still on and a person coming in late.  “I mean in the elevator shaft.  A man threw him.  We had to go to the police station so my son could identify him in a lineup.”


Charlene looked at her.  “I’ll have to dock you,” she said.


“It wasn’t my doing!  They took him out of school and I couldn’t let him go by himself.  He’s only seven!”  She went into the small locker room.


“A man threw him in the elevator shaft?” Charlene said like it pained her plump red mouth to repeat it.  “Where was the elevator when all this was going on?”


“It’s broken.”


“Then why would your son and some man be trying to use it?” she said like this sprung the trap closed.


“I’m not making this up if that’s what you’re thinking.  Right after I got home last night the police brought my son to the door, and then today I had to get him out of school and I just now got here.  Couldn’t I use sick time?”  She opened her locker and hung up her coat and kept her back turned so she wouldn’t have to see whatever disapproving face Charlene might choose to display.


“Sick time is for when you’re sick,” Charlene said.


She made a quick round of her rooms to see who wanted help going to the potty or had a bed pan needed cleaning, then returned to the small grey locker room to steal a few minutes of study time for her Tuesday night class.  There was going to be a quiz tonight.  The door burst open and she saw Charlene’s skinny blond ponytail and threw the book under a sheet in the laundry cart to hide it.


“Are you sleeping in here?”


“No ma’am,” she answered like a caught orderly, caught sleeping, caught lying, looking up at Charlene’s face as though too stupid to be much at lying but not so stupid as to be untrainable.  Then she couldn’t help smiling at the idea of pegging the right level of stupid and Charlene’s eyes widened in fury that she was being insolent.  She sat straighter on the short wooden bench.  Charlene walked close in front of her, wanting to emphasize the dark gold supervisor badge with her name on it in white letters that sat on the slope of her breast like a prize.


“You were sleeping with your head in that laundry cart,” said Charlene, the look on her face smearing Linda as someone who had no objection to touching her face to other people’s dirty linen.  “This is a locker room, not your bedroom.”  She glanced from side to side as though she was expecting to find a lover hidden inside a grey metal locker with his brown pecker sticking out.


“I was feeling sick,” Linda said.


“Are you pregnant?”  This seemed to amuse Charlene until she remembered it might have happened on her time.  She crossed her arms and drummed her fingers, that were thin considering how stocky she was, on the leather-bound pad she always carried.  Linda shook her head no, and then looked again at Charlene’s fingers.  Her wedding ring, that she always wore, wasn’t there.

“Have you missed your period?  Do you keep track?”


“Of course I keep track,” Linda said, raising her eyes from Charlene’s fingers to her face, letting her know she’d seen.


“Well, Mrs. Aspen’s been buzzing for ten minutes.  Maybe you could try keeping track of that.”  Before Charlene turned away, her pink cheeks turning redder from Linda noticing the absent ring, she looked once more with disgust at the dirty sheets, and a corner of the book was sticking out.  Linda stood up to block her view but Charlene had already stepped past, moving as though still twenty and used to dancing.  Snatching it, she seemed confused to find that it was a textbook in her hand, and became angry when she saw that it was calculus.  “What’s this,” she said, “another way to get free money?”


“I’m taking night classes in nursing.  You’d hate that, wouldn’t you; if I was a nurse like you.”  She saw Charlene shrink back from the terrorist revealed in her voice and eyes, hiding in the rooms of the nursing home like a sniper, having opinions that couldn’t be monitored.


“In your dreams.  You’ll never get past calculus.  If I had to work my butt off, what do you think’s gonna happen to you?”  Charlene smiled to convince her it was hopeless.  “And what do you think would happen if you got fired from this nursing home?  You don’t even clean bedpans right.  I’m keeping the book.  You’ll get it back at the end of your shift.  You aren’t studying on my time.”  She turned, having reclaimed her advantage, and swirled out of the locker room.

Linda stood for a time without moving, trying to sort out why Charlene always seemed to be angrier with her than with any of the other help.  Finally she went to make another round of the bedpans.  Charlene was standing in the pale green central hallway that connected all the rooms.  She’d handed the calculus book to the other white nurses standing next to her who were passing it back and forth.  All three of them looked at her and grinned.  She had to concentrate not to trip.