SUPERIOR WOMEN

Through the decades with five members of the Radcliffe Class of '46—in a wan, pulse-less novel that has the limitations of the tinny Rona Jaffe genre but little of the compensating brio or drama. Adams' central figure, at least in the first half, is Megan Greene from California: plump, pretty, sensuous, bright, from a modest background (Mom is a car-hop)—and naive enough to get her 1943 heart broken, after lots of heavy petting, by an upper-class type who marries somebody else. ("Well, if that's being in love, I won't do that again. I'll settle for sex.") So Megan has affairs with a Jewish teacher and—on her visit to N.Y.C.—a black tromboneplayer. . . while her four favorite classmates have different sorts of love/sex problems. Bigoted, pretty Southern belle Lavinia, ever-cool about men, loses one beau in WW II, then quickly settles for a dull, appropriate Manhattan marriage. Fat, maternal Peg gets pregnant by a rich, boorish young Texan—and winds up with a swarm of kids and a nervous breakdown. Cathy, Catholic but otherwise barely characterized, gets jilted by a fiance, goes to California grad-school, winds up in an affair with a priest. Nice, feisty Janet, Jewish and pre-med, junks her career for bohemian marriage to sexy playwright Adam Marr, a sort of Irish Norman Mailer. And the women's lives will overlap here and there over the next 30 years, with one decade slurring into the next and virtually all major life-events occurring offstage: Peg turns to civil rights and lesbianism; Lavinia, sexually bored and panicked by age, has affairs—including one with a long-ago, crippled beau (now a rich, political biggie); Janet, losing Adam to a series of exotic women, returns to medicine; Cathy dies of cancer; and literary agent Megan has a long, rocky affair with charismatic left-winger Henry (Lavinia's sometime bedmate too)—but winds up, in a 1983 epilogue, with two lovers (Henry and the black trombonist), plus a new career down South. . . helping Peg to run a shelter for the homeless-and-unemployed. "Are some men put off by extremes of intelligence or even attractiveness in women—put off by superior women?" That's the theme of this unshapely saga—an iffy one, especially since the "superior" women here are so fuzzily drawn, so unconvincingly motivated, so oddly (in most cases) unappealing. Off-putting, too, is the marshmallow-y sentimentality beneath Adams' polished prose. Still, if this has little of the wit and shrewd social-history that lifted Mary McCarthy's The Group above gossip-sex-and-soap, it's probably Adams' most commercial fiction yet—with enough chic misery and quasi-feminist gloss to attract an audience with uncertain taste and certain pretensions.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 1984

ISBN: 0671020684

Page Count: 390

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1984

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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