CHLOE AND OLIVIA by Bell Gale Chevigny


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When two women meet in a Roman crypt one afternoon in 1961, it's the beginning of a long, fierce friendship that's painstakingly chronicled in this intense first novel. Chloe and Olivia are physical opposites--short and fair, tall and dark, respectively--and they disagree on many points, but there's an immediate bond between them that carries them through the next several years, even as their lives carry them in separate directions. Chloe settles in Greenwich Village and pursues her studies while Olivia marries difficult, moody artist Karl, moves to Arizona, and gives birth to baby Hannah. When the two women meet again, as they manage to do periodically, it takes a while to pick up the threads of the friendship. The idea of raising a child is alien turf to Chloe. And Olivia finds herself irritated by Chloe's passionate, often self-righteous plunges into various causes--civil rights, antiwar, etc. They fight. They let months go by without communicating, but, still, the bond holds. It's this solid, but always mysterious, bond of friendship that Chevigny pinpoints as her subject here. She was inspired by a quote from Virginia Woolf, wondering whether anyone would ever write a real story about women's friendships, a story where ""Chloe liked Olivia."" Chevigny has certainly done just that. But, like many novels built around one specific idea, the framework of this book seems confining at times, and the many impassioned conversations about causes and emotions begin to wear thin. Things pick up when we see the two women acting rather than anguishing, and the penultimate chapter, set in a Canadian summer house-and involving canoes, storms, and surprise--is a gem. Finely focused and inward-looking, what this book offers is an unusual, telescopic view into the core of friendship.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1990
Publisher: Grove Weidenfeld