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Polite Society

Posted on

Polite Society

Current Status:
In Season
Melanie Sumner
Houghton Mifflin

We gave it an A

Melanie Sumner creates a brand-new kind of ugly American: Darren, a spoiled, drunken, horny brat from Tennessee who joins the Peace Corps because she can’t think of anything better to do. Assigned to Senegal, this young woman turns into a well-dressed alcoholic with a maid and no concern for host-country natives except to avoid or have sex with them. There’s no reason to like this whining, self-centered, obtusely shallow protagonist — but Sumner’s brilliant storytelling makes you wish you could reach out and slap Darren on every page. Sumner writes so incisively that you’ll be sure Polite Society is autobiographical, but no one as insufferable as Darren could have written so engaging a first novel (at least not in a fair universe). When she hits bottom she prays, ”Lord God, you bastard, help me” — and you hope He won’t. A