A story about growing up with a distant father and an ineffectual mother in Austin, Texas, in the 1970s and '80s.
Molly Moore’s father is a Circuit Court judge, intellectually prepossessing but emotionally reserved. De Witt’s narrative begins with his death and then gives us flashbacks into Molly’s growing up, moving away and their eventual reconciliation. As a young girl Molly never quite fits in, in part because, like her father, she’s extremely smart—though not as brilliant as her best friend Becky Lopez. Molly and Becky manage to negotiate their adolescence in the usual painful ways, with crushes on boys, negative body images and unanswerable questions about their future. As a tween Molly becomes enamored with Keith Miller, but like many pubescent romances, this one fades—though she’s still hurt when Keith makes Becky pregnant their senior year of high school. Molly goes on to Harvard, while Becky decides to give birth to her baby, a daughter she names Kate. While at Harvard Molly sleeps around, anywhere from one-night stands to a more enduring, and heartbreaking, relationship with Joe Price, a charming liar who’s never been to college. In her sophomore year Molly gets pregnant, has an abortion, leaves Joe (by mutual consent) and drops out of Harvard, becoming—rather unconvincingly—a cleaning woman for Cambridge society women. This she does for 14 years, sleeping “with more men than [she] can remember,” until she discovers she’s once again pregnant. This time she decides to keep the child, whom she names Zim. Then, under a cloud of scandal, Molly discovers that her father had allegedly tried to help Becky’s daughter Kate, who’s become a street kid and part-time prostitute. When Kate is killed in a wreck while Judge Moore is driving, it becomes clear that his interest in her was more than paternal. Molly finally, and painfully, reconciles with her father, now dying of cancer.
Although the plot reads like a soap opera, De Witt’s prose is nuanced and her characters are finely shaded.