Lucinda Rosenfeld’s Class is a satirical novel about a bleeding heart liberal white woman whose commitment to her ideals is challenged when a troubled student from a nearby housing project begins bullying children in her daughter’s class. Rosenfeld’s protagonist Karen Kipple is proud to send her daughter Ruby to a public school where few of children are white or Asian rather than a private prep academy. She also wonders if it’s a good thing that her best friend amongst the mothers is Black and that the mother she despises the most — the head of the PTA — is white. When some of the parents begin complaining about the bully, who happens to be Black, and Ruby’s best friend is transferred to a private school, Karen voices her sympathy for the boy’s underprivileged background and is confused when her Black best friend dismisses him as trouble.
The satire is gentle, and the humour is sharp at times but the edge is blunted by the protagonist’s earnestness. Rosenfeld sends up not so much the hypocrisy as the naivete of liberalism, where some proponents present the appearance of liberal values but are unwilling to get their hands dirty when things get personal.
The humour is also unsustainable in the long run — within a couple of chapters, I was beginning to tire of the snark, and it was almost a relief when Rosenfeld shifts to a more earnest tone. Karen makes a momentous decision that makes her question her liberal street cred, but more importantly, forces her to face the reality of her unconscious biases. We may roll our eyes at some of Karen’s actions, but can never bring ourselves to laugh at her. A subplot involving a billionaire felt unnecessary and another subplot involving PTA funds was true to the characters but honestly felt cheesy and didactic rather than cheer-worthy as I think it was meant to be. Still, I liked the way things turned out and I thought the ending made sense.
Overall, I think the satire could have used a bit more bite, and I think the story really picked up with the more straightforward latter half of the novel.
Thank you to Hachette Book Group for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.