Contemporary yet familiar tale about a consoling summer friendship as two women—one undergoing radiation therapy, the other unhappy in her marriage and career—share their fears and pasts as they walk a Massachusetts beach.
Set in Cape Ann, the story begins in the spring when Kathleen Levine, 59, diagnosed with breast cancer, emerges from surgery only to face radiation treatment over the summer. A librarian at the elementary school and the mother of two sons, Kathleen is having a hard time with her diagnosis. A Catholic who converted to Judaism when she married local businessman Buddy, she can’t help but remember how her sister Pat, a nun, died painfully and young from the same disease, even though doctors assure Kathleen that her cancer is different. In addition, Kathleen is tormented by memories of her son Danny, who was a toddler when he was killed by an out-of-control car. Fortysomething Boston writer Joyce Tabachnik is also feeling down. She’s written a pseudonymous bodice-ripper successful enough to finance a vacation house in Cape Ann, but she really wants to write serious fiction; her husband Frank is a workaholic; and her daughter Nina, on the cusp of adolescence, is no longer sweet and tractable. The two women, meeting for the first time after a synagogue service, start taking walks together along the beach. As the summer progresses, Joyce, who’s fixing up her house, suffers writer’s block and has a brief affair with a mysterious Irishman; Kathleen, more and more depressed, experiences panic attacks, especially when she's behind the wheel of her car. But their friendship sustains them, as Kathleen overcomes her fears of driving to warn Joyce on her way to a rendezvous that the police are after her lover, and owns up to Joyce the responsibility she feels for Danny’s death.
Though questions of religious faith are touched on, the bestselling Diamant (The Red Tent, 1997) never wanders far from a nicely written but conventional celebration of female friendship.