REUNION by Elizabeth Fishel


The Girls We Used to Be, the Women We Became
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Life since private school: neither a useful sociological study nor an intimate memoir.

Fishel (Family Mirrors, 1991) was one of 25 young women who graduated from New York City’s elite Brearley School in

1968, a year of widespread antiwar and anti-authority demonstrations, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert

Kennedy, and violent clashes between protesters and police at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. How did the

Brearley group, emerging from an intellectually rigorous but socially insulated environment, fare as they moved into a world

where traditional values were indeed being upended? Fishel chooses to follow ten of the women in detail, from their years in

Brearley to the present. They coped or struggled in four distinct styles, discussed in chapters on the untraditional traditionalist,

the unconventional career-tracker, the seeker, and the juggler. In essence, however, they were a rather boringly homogenous group,

white, upwardly mobile, and upper middle class. All came from a background where "nice and not nice" were carefully defined,

and any deviation from the rules was a closely guarded secret. Keeping the rules or keeping the secrets drove some of the women

to suicide; more often the clash of cultures—virginity, white wine, and dancing school versus sex, drugs, and rock and roll, even

at Vassar and Wellesley—set others adrift. "They often let choices choose them," says Fishel astutely. But what threw them

sounds like no more than what throws most high school graduates set loose in a wider world: separation from family, search for

identity, anxiety over newfound freedom. The Brearley girls stumbled to adulthood with the usual number of divorces, wrong

career choices, and children, and perhaps a tad more social commitment and soul-searching than the average American. At the

class’s 30th reunion, Fishel found them relatively content, but still searching for balance among love, work, and family.

Suspiciously like a Brearley essay: Organized, researched, opinionated—with nothing below the neck. (Author tour)

Pub Date: March 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-679-44983-3
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2000