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Cover image for Daughters of the revolution : a novel
Daughters of the revolution : a novel
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.
Physical Description:
173 p. ; 25 cm.
Geographic Term:
It's 1968. The prestigious but cash-strapped Goode School in the town of Cape Wilde is run by its aging, philandering headmaster, Goddard Byrd, known to both his friends and his enemies as God. With Cape Wilde engulfed by the social and political storms of integration, coeducation and the sexual revolution, Byrd has confidently promised coeducation "over my dead body." And then, through a clerical error, the Goode School admits its first female student: Carole Faust, a brilliant, intractable fifteen-year-old black girl.


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"From the O. Henry Award-winning author of the story collection The Bostons a New York Times Notable Book, Los Angeles Times Book of the Year and winner of the PEN/Robert Bingham Fellowship for Writers an exquisite first novel set at a disintegrating New England prep school. It's 1968. The prestigious but cash-strapped Goode School in the town of Cape Wilde is run by its aging, philandering headmaster, Goddard Byrd, known to both his friends and his enemies as God. With Cape Wilde engulfed by the social and political storms of integration, coeducation and the sexual revolution, God has confidently promised coeducation over my dead body. And then, through a clerical error, the Goode School admits its first female student- Carole Faust, a brilliant, intractable fifteen-year-old black girl. What does it mean to be the First Girl? Carolyn Cooke has written a ferociously intelligent, richly sensual novel about the lives of girls and women, the complicated desperation of daughters without fathers and the erosion of paternalistic power in an elite New England town on the cusp of radical social change. Remarkable for the precision of its language, the incandescence of its images, and

Author Notes

"Carolyn Cooke's short-story collection, The Bostons, was a winner of the 2002 PEN/Robert Bingham Fellowship for Writers and a runner-up for the PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award. Her fiction has appeared in AGNI, The Paris Review, Ploughshares and in two volumes each of The Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Prize Stories. A recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council, she teaches in the MFA writing program at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco."

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Cooke's flinty first novel, coming nearly 10 years after her much-acclaimed collection, The Bostons, grapples with another set of crafty New Englanders, all involved, one way or another, with the Goode School of Boston in the late 1960s: head Goddard "God" Byrd, a seductive male chauvinist of nearly retirement age, is dead set against allowing girls into his beloved institution despite being himself the product of radical New England reformers; Heck, product of "a brilliant class" at Goode, dies in a suspicious accident at sea while boating with his best friend, Rebozos, widowing his young bride, Mei-Mei; and Heck and Mei-Mei's daughter, EV, becomes an essential narrator, observing her widowed mother's clumsy affair with Byrd, and growing friendly with the first girl admitted to the school in 1969, Carole-the half-black teenage daughter of Rebozos, it turns out. Each of the characters offers his or her own trajectory, moving through the 1970s and into the '80s, from Carole's political and artistic iconoclasm to EV's sexual initiation and move to New York, through to 2005, when Goode's transformation comes full circle. Though these taut narratives live in the book more as discrete stories than as moving parts of a novel, they are individually excellent. Cooke delivers on every page. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

In her amazing first novel, short story writer Cooke bridges the two forms as she introduces her characters in chapters that can stand on their own but which together create a complex and challenging structure. At the center of the novel is an aging prep school for boys run by Goddard Byrd God to his friends whose ideas in the 1960s and 1970s are as antiquated and shabby as the school. All the characters are connected to the school and one another by money and social standing, or lack thereof, as well as by a desire to be more than themselves and an undercurrent of fear. God's absolute rule against female students is thwarted by a typographical error, leading to the admission of an African American scholarship girl who shakes the school and everyone associated with it to their foundations. Although the setting is a boy's school, the power in Cooke's nuanced tale rests in the women the mothers and daughters, secretaries, friends, and trustees who carry the story forward.--Hoover, Danis. Copyright 2010 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

IN the opening chapter of Carolyn Cooke's "Daughters of the Revolution," two young men go kayaking off the coast south of Boston. It is 1963 and both men are graduates of the Goode School, a redoubt of WASP privilege. One of them, Archer, comes from money and the other, Heck, comes from moderate means and continues to struggle. Heck packs sandwiches for them both in hopes that Archer won't suggest they eat at a restaurant; when the weather turns bad, he notices that Archer has helped himself to the only life jacket in the boat. Issues of entitlement become a matter of life and death. The book that spills forth from this dramatic scene suggests that, as Robert Penn Warren once wrote, "you live through . . . that little piece of time that is yours, but that piece of time is not only your own life, it is the summing-up of all the other lives that are simultaneous with yours. It is, in other words, History, and what you are is an expression of History." In her first book, "The Bostons," a well-received collection of interlinked stories, Cooke explored New England characters struggling within the confines of class. "Daughters of the Revolution" covers similar territory - adding gender, in particular the second-wave feminist movement - but, though presented as a novel, seems caught between forms. The 15 chapters aren't realized enough to stand as short stories, and yet never gather a novel's force and singular vision. Cooke's characters are a diverse lot: an aging white headmaster named Goddard (or "God," in case we missed the symbolism), who is intent on keeping girls out of the Goode School; a self-possessed black girl named Carole, who is accidentally admitted; Heck's young widow, who becomes God's typist and lover; and her daughter, EV. Through their interactions, Cooke shows how social transformation can be less a forward march than a messy, halting dance, with sometimes awkward partners. "All my life I've been drawn to misogynist coots like you," one of God's younger lovers tells him. "Like a taste for black coffee - incredible when you think about it." Cooke's often witty observations ground us where the structure of the story doesn't. Of God's long-suffering wife, Cooke makes the ironic observation: "She might have been an artist (she has that unforgiving temper) but for her tragic flaw - everything she touches turns beautiful. She became, of course, a gardener." Unfortunately, the characters often feel like overdetermined types. Even when Cooke explores God's point of view, he remains a straw man, his every observation seemingly calculated to reveal how sexist men of his sort were. Carole remains more a politically correct wish fulfillment than a flesh-and-blood character: always ready with a zippy comeback or some wise self-analysis, and oddly undaunted by her position as the first black girl at the Goode School. BY contrast, when Cooke turns to EV's point of view, the issue-driven flavor of the prose falls away, and the writing shimmers with intimate and revealing detail. Observing her mother move around the kitchen, "EV makes a note: women put things on - aprons and lipstick - then take them off." The uncertain atmosphere of her childhood is summed up by a single vivid memory: "Before we went to bed, we stood empty bourbon and milk bottles in front of the door, then waited in the night to hear glass break." Later, when EV (now a young woman living in New York) buys a pair of expensive red heels, she keeps them on the table, like a still life. Unlike Carole, the supergirl she befriends, EV may not be perfectly empowered, but she does pose some good questions. Watching her mother wax her eyebrows, she asks, "Doesn't it hurt?" Her mother's oddly cheerful response: "Like hell." Through EV, we come to understand the paradox at the heart of Cooke's story: a wave of half-liberated women entering the world before it was entirely ready to embrace them. Danzy Senna's most recent book is "You Are Free," a collection of stories.

Library Journal Review

For lack of a life jacket, the trajectory of several lives is altered in this smart, sexy, sarcastic, sophisticated novel from Cooke (The Bostons, a New York Times Notable Book). The Goode School, a prestigious New England bastion of male-only education, designed to prepare its wealthy students to become masters of the universe, represents a microcosm of the social and political upheaval of the past four decades, all overseen by self-important, entitled headmaster Goddard Byrd. In 1968, a typing error results in a scholarship offer to the first Negro female in the school's history, negating Byrd's promise to admit "girls" over his dead body. Encouraged by the put-upon female faculty and protected by the moneyed Rebozos family, gloriously rebellious Carole Faust upends life at the school. Meanwhile, the drowning of Goode alumnus and doctoral candidate Heck Hellman means that his wife and daughter must struggle through menial jobs and public school education, working their way up to middle-class status until, years later, they cross paths with Carole at a Goode school function. VERDICT Cooke's unique novel defies genre comparisons but has particular relevance as our country's financial woes exacerbate the gap between the power brokers and the rest of us. This cautionary tale deserves wide readership. [See Prepub Alert, 11/29/10.]-Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Myers, FL (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



He begins with a bang at the center of his story. It's spring of that revolutionary year, not too far in. Meringues of snow line the sidewalks, but a freshness cuts the air. Goddard Byrd--known to his friends and enemies as "God"--has just emerged from an afternoon at the Parker House Hotel, a virile, uncircumcised male of his class, upbringing and era. His prostate gland and his praeputium have not yet been removed, and he is unburdened, just now, of Puritanism's load. He has drunk a glass of gin, then lain with Mrs. Viktor Rebozos--whom he must remember to call Aileen--and both of them are better for this exercise. In bed, she tells him he is a bear, all paws and claws. She insults him, purrs, climbs on top. She wants to know if he could be any wild animal, which would he be? An animal? He would be a tiger! (She would be a gazelle.) He likes himself better this way, his natural shyness tempered by adrenaline. She is more fl exible than he, more at ease, depending on the occasion--more pliable. Women are pliable, he thinks; they revel in the shifting relations required by husbands, children, lovers, others. (How can this be a matter of opinion?) He can't tell Mrs. Rebozos these things; she might eat him alive. They lie together in the fading afternoon light, the March grisaille. "The most beautiful words in the English language are sex in the afternoon ," she tells him, and he can't, in the moment, find reason to correct her. Mrs. Rebozos's tongue darts suddenly across his left nipple, and God rises with an animal roar, his body fire and ice. She smiles. "I read that in The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana ." "Do it again," says God. Her tongue and lips move excruciatingly over his body, describing ancient erotic techniques from the Orient. He rises obediently as a snake in a basket. God lifts his head to look at her, and feels an organ breach (liver? spleen?). She is so gamine, indeed! She looks like a boy. Almost. Short hair. Hoops in her ears. All of it signifying what? Maybe nothing. Eventually, he pins her to her back, which she seems to enjoy, and humps her in the familiar way, running breathlessly toward a goal, which he reaches. "You're beginning to get it, my earnest missionary," she tells him afterward. "Let's hope it's not too late." They share a plate of cold roast beef, a famous roll. Naked, quivering a little, she wraps a blue knit scarf around her shoulders. "My dark secret," she says. "All my life I've been drawn to misogynist coots like you. Like a taste for black coffee--incredible when you think about it." Even God is surprised that a free-spirited woman such as Mrs. Rebozos would so defi antly stand beside an old man, in his shadow, eat meat with him and be his prize! "I have to go," he says into her ear. "You could stay all afternoon; you could have a bath." "Just a quick shower," she says. "I have a women's thing. Last week, we inspected our cervixes. Mine looked like an eye. It blinked. " God tries to conceal his horror. At three, he descends, leaving Mrs. Rebozos to enjoy the rented room, whose extravagant price stabs him when he thinks of it. (In spite of the evidence, he imagines her as feminine, passive, mysterious and inert. Women in their beds, Rorschach blots on luminous sheets.) He advances through the lobby and rolls into the street like a well-oiled man on wheels. The atmosphere of hostility and depravity beyond the doors of the Parker House stings him like a slap. The street is fi lthy; even the city fathers are off their game, lax or stoned. Girls in paper dresses--temporary dresses for temporary girls--giggle at him. He's harmless, they think, the last of a dying breed. God passes gently into a haze of mustard-purple-maroon and marijuana fumes. In spite of the expense of the hotel and the crudeness of the street, he feels deeply at home in this world. It is divided and antagonistic, fi lled with human hatreds bred by race, religion and economics; he loves it anyway. Excerpted from Daughters of the Revolution by Carolyn Cooke All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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