Oreo: A Novel

Image of Oreo
Release Date: 
July 6, 2015
New Directions
Reviewed by: 

Oreo, the heroine of the title, is raised by maternal grandparents. She is the daughter of a white Jewish deadbeat father and a black actress mother, who is constantly on tour. Oreo’s story revolves around her search for her father, who disappeared after her birth, after finding a mysterious note from him.

Oreo is meant to be humorous and lighthearted, and there are amusing asides and characters, moments in which both the black person and the Jewish person poke humorously at each other using tongue-in-cheek racism.  

But this book is not for all readers. Author Fran Ross (1935–1985) gives readers a modern (1970s) parody of Theseus, and it is hard to follow. One would need to be familiar with Ariadne’s thread to follow the labyrinthine tale of Oreo. Though the writing is straightforward, it is very Joycean, except with punctuation marks.

The story has strange breaks in the writing, as if setting new scenes for a play, along with asides and stage directions. If a reader is a fan of James Joyce and remembers the myth of Theseus and its retellings without needing a reader’s guide, then he or she should be fine with Ms. Ross’s tale; otherwise, this book is not for the faint-hearted.

James Joyce’s Ulysses is more entertaining and straightforward than Oreo. Oreo is also dated with its 70s cultural references that will be lost on younger readers. This journey of self-discovery of a young mixed-race girl as she navigates Manhattan would do well with serious scholars of black literature, or even those involved in Joycean studies. Academic readers will be less likely to mind the strange stops and starts along this Philadelphia/Manhattan journey or the black vernacular and Yiddish that heavily salts the dialogue.

This is a literary novel meant for readers who wish to intellectually engage with an old myth in a new and strange way.