A Jewish woman born in 1900 tells her granddaughter about growing up in the 20th century.
Diamant (Day After Night, 2009, etc.) establishes an agreeable, conversational tone in the opening paragraph: “I’m flattered you want to interview me,” Addie says. “And when did I ever say no to my favorite grandchild?” It’s 1985, and we quickly learn that Addie is the daughter of Russian immigrants, the only one born in the New World but not the only one to disappoint her bitter, carping mother by turning out to be “a real American.” Older sister Betty horrifies their parents in 1910 by moving out to become a saleswoman at Filene’s, and Addie flouts their limited expectations by attending high school and joining a reading club at the local settlement house. It’s there she learns about Rockport Lodge and snatches a vacation at this “inn for young ladies in a seaside town north of Boston” with the help of the settlement house’s nurturing Miss Chevalier. On her first trip to the lodge in 1916, Addie forms lifetime friendships with other striving working-class girls, particularly Filomena, whose affair with a married artist demonstrates the promises and perils of the new freedoms women are claiming. Addie’s narrative rambles through the decades, spotlighting somewhat generic events: the deaths of two nephews in the 1918 flu epidemic, an unfulfilling romance with a traumatized World War I veteran, an encounter with a violent rumrunner. Her increasing aspirations take her from a secretarial job to a newspaper, where she climbs from typist to columnist with the help of other uppity women. True love arrives with labor lawyer Aaron Metsky, and a quick wrap-up of the years after 1931 tells us Addie found her vocation as a social worker and teacher.
Enjoyable fiction with a detailed historical backdrop, this sweet tale is paradigmatic book club fare, but we expect something more substantial from the author of The Red Tent (1997) and The Last Days of Dogtown (2005).