A good idea gone awry: Four women growing older form a ""circle of friends,"" writing to each other about their bodies, relationships, sexuality, and careers, but with letters organized in such chaotic fashion that it's impossible to follow whatever development might have taken place. The four authors--variously successful as a medical doctor, a teacher, a college professor, and a university administrator--are African-American women raised in the South, and they first met at Talladega College, in Alabama, in the mid-1950s. In 1989 Marilyn Hill Harper suggested formalizing the friendships in a way that would let them support one another through mid-life and old age. The four gathered in San Francisco in 1990 and have continued meeting regularly as well as keeping in touch by letter and monthly conference calls. The issues on the table are retirement, health and good looks, men (one woman is widowed, one divorced, two still partners in long marriages), sex, personal style, family (including aging parents), forgetting and remembering. Although the letters are loosely organized into chapters by subject, they are as tossed about chronologically as the balls in a lotto wheel and are often self-conscious and self-congratulatory. As a result, the reader loses the development of the friendship and of the matters that concern each woman over the seven or so years covered in this volume. What's appealing is that the authors--intelligent, educated, and engaged in the wider world--don't tackle global political issues like racism and feminism, although all have experienced bigotry and misogyny. They deal instead, often humorously, with more personal concerns like failing bladders, renovating careers and houses after 50, and strengthening the friendships that will sustain them through old age. Close, but no prize this time. Perhaps seven years from now, this quartet will have found a stronger voice.