STAYING UNDER by Carol Alma McPhee


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An earnest but stretched-thin debut evokes the then-and-now in the lives of two women who finally figure out why a longtime friendship ended abruptly one summer in the late1940s. Widowed Maureen Lewis, on her way home from San Diego, decides to visit the coastal California town where she grew up—and, if she’s brave enough, maybe get in touch with Joann Ridley, her former best friend. On the surface, their backgrounds and temperaments weren—t much alike. Joann’s parents ran a cafe, where her gentle-natured and eccentric father sat in the back, absorbed in his studies of astrology and mysticism. By contrast, Maureen’s father was a judge and her mother a civic activist; though Maureen admired their competence and energy, she preferred the warm homeliness of the Ridley household. And while Joann was daring and imaginative, Maureen remained more practical and focused. As Maureen phones to arrange a reunion, the two women, in alternating sections, recall their camaraderie and the 40-plus years since then. Maureen’s full and accomplished life impresses Joann (she finds her own life hollow and meaningless). Regardless, it’s the summer after both finished high school that especially concerns them now. All the cultural, political, and historical details that can define a time are here, comprehensively, especially those involving sexual double standards, since the younger Joann became pregnant and chose to seek an abortion. Joining forces back then, the two women eventually found an abortionist in San Francisco. Once there, however, Joann insisted she undergo the procedure alone. Maureen’s failure to accompany Joann is what Maureen has always suspected injured the friendship. But, as she discovers during their belated catch-up lunch, the truth is quite different. For all its detail, more schematic mood piece than dramatic tale of friendship renewed.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 1-57601-056-2
Page count: 224pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1998