A tender comedy of contemporary manners from Anshaw (Aquamarine, 1992, etc.), centered on a mother and daughter who love each other but can’t quite connect.
Fern has never really forgiven Nora for coming out as a lesbian and taking Fern away from her father to live in a series of ramshackle apartments with a transient population of overnight girlfriends. Though Fern’s now in college and Nora has settled down with calm, domestic (albeit slightly controlling) Jeanne, she still fears that her mother will pull another disappearing act. Spending time with her wild friend Tracy, who refuses to discuss the paternity of infant son Vaughn, Fern can see how hard it is to be a young woman thrust unexpectedly into motherhood (as Nora was). Fern tends to Vaughn with more patience and purpose than Tracy can muster, but she still relates to Nora like a sullen teenager. Anshaw delineates their touchy exchanges in pitch-perfect, ruefully funny dialogue, and she surrounds them with a wonderfully vivid cast of supporting characters: Nora’s cross-dressing (but straight) brother Harold, with whom Fern is close; the judgmental administrative assistant at the adult-education program Nora heads; Fern’s new slacker boyfriend James (who could be Vaughn’s father); Pam, the very butch contractor Nora is sneaking around with; and Lucky, Fern’s aging dog. The author skillfully moves in and out of various people’s heads, back and forth in time, weaving a seamless narrative that gradually unfolds the characters’ motivations, past history, and gropings toward a more satisfying future. There won’t be a dry eye in the house when Lucky’s death moves Fern and Nora toward a more adult emotional relationship, even though the scene is as understated and subtle as every other element in Anshaw’s compassionate portrait of human frailty and resilience. The finale offers hope for almost everyone, but no easy promises of smooth sailing ahead.
Not a false note anywhere in a story that’s as entertaining as it is wise. Anshaw just keeps getting better.