Books by Nina Barrett

NON-FICTION
Released: Sept. 1, 1998

In the tradition of The Group, this is the real-life saga of five women who came to know each other in elementary school more than 35 years ago and continue to share in one another's sometimes tumultuous lives. Journalist Barrett (The Playgroup: Three Women Contend with the Myths of Motherhood, 1994) is not herself one of The Girls but spent two years interviewing and observing them in order to tell their stories. The chapters are divided into roughly five- year intervals, beginning in 1960 and ending with a summation of "The Eighties and Beyond." Each segment is framed with a brief profile of a contemporary celebrity, a device that works surprisingly well because of the quirky nature of the role models chosen. Among those starring in the introductory "fractured fairy tales," as Barrett calls them: the emaciated model Twiggy, presidential daughter Lynda Johnson Robb, transsexual opthalmologist Renee Richards, Patti Hearst (a.k.a. Tania), and of the Kennedys, alcoholic, intimidated Joan (not Jackie, Ethel, or Rose). The Girls—Betsy, Carole, Tammy, Donna, and Maude, all given fictional names—attended Catholic high school together, and a summer school trip to France solidified the friendships. When their parents and the nuns weren't looking, they smoked, drank, and tried dope and sex with a parade of boyfriends. They were all married by the time they were 20. When they reached their 40s, all the original husbands but one had been shed; Donna had lost 200 pounds, undergone a serious psychological breakdown, and was getting her Ph.D.; Betsy had returned to business school and started her own hair salon; Maude, after a long period in a lesbian relationship, was an entrepreneur and a single mother; Carole and Tammy had remarried successfully. They meet once a month to stoke their continuing friendship, exclaiming gleefully to a sixth woman, Cindy, who has been accepted into the group: "You're just a slut, like all the rest of us." Radical shifts in female roles as reflected in a group of spirited, engaging women. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: March 1, 1994

A penetrating, witty, moving exploration of the lives of three women trying to find themselves in their new roles as mothers. In a story that unfolds with the immediacy and suspense of a novel, Barrett (I Wish Someone Had Told Me, 1990—not reviewed) chronicles her meeting with Angie and Grace and their toddlers at the Tot Lot in a Chicago suburb, and the two's decision to form a playgroup for the shut-in winter. Far from the cozy, safe, primary- colored world stereotypical of mothers at home with young children, the weekly meetings of the three women and their toddlers are filled with their own brand of quiet drama and sometimes overpowering emotions. The women look to each other for support as each struggles to define a unique concept of motherhood for herself: Nina, the author, wants to combine her serious ambition as a journalist with a happy marriage and primary care of her son, Sam. Angie intends to make beautiful quilts, have an egalitarian partnership with her husband, and above all be nothing like her own mother, who went crazy raising kids in the suburbs. Grace wants to be the sort of earth mother who nurses on demand, hand-grinds wholesome baby food, is always there for her child—and if it means postponing her successful career as a theater director, she intends to be content with the sacrifice. All fall short of their ideals- -one, tragically so. And although the women do gain some support from each other, they also find unexpectedly painful conflict as alliances shift among the three of them, as they mirror their children's primal struggles with aggression and possessiveness, as one woman tries to compensate for her marital discontent by cultivating a barely concealed infatuation with another playgroup member's husband. A compelling book that explores the depths of a subject routinely trivialized—if treated at all—in literature. Read full book review >