NET OF JEWELS by Ellen Gilchrist


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Gilchrist's latest--the coming-of-age autobiography of Rhoda Manning, introduced in In the Land of Dreamy Dreams (1981)--is, as usual, heavy on sensitivity and sexual soul-searching, but it's not as dazzling in its display of southern society as Gilchrist's earlier work. Rhoda Manning is cousin to Anna Hand (The Anna Papers, 1988). In her late teens, Rhoda is moved to Dunleith, Alabama, from Kentucky, and she struggles--via friends, college, sororities, affairs, and finally a bittersweet marriage--""to break the bonds"" her father ""tied me with."" She is part rebellious late-50's/early-60's adolescent, part ""rich and spoiled and pampered and charming."" She wins a freshman writing contest at Vanderbilt, meets Charles William Waters, on his way to becoming an architect (""my first true running buddy, my first imaginative peer""), and--not knowing ""that I was made of light, of star carbon and molecules"" (a Gilchrist motif in recent books)--she suffers when her careless driving leads to the death of friend Clay. After Rhoda recovers and has it out with her father (who's worried about a lawsuit), it's back to college and the trials and tribulations of a young woman who's smart. This is 1955, so an attempted rape goes unreported, but finally there's Malcolm, and marriage, and children, and separation, and civil rights, and a brief affair with a civil-rights worker, which leads to an abortion, and another attempt to make her marriage work: ""We were 23 years old and we had suffered."" She reads Freud, drinks too much, and then Charles is dying of heart disease: ""Please don't die on me."" But time passes, he does, and the book ends. Parts of this southern saga are schmaltzy, but Gilchrist's saving grace is, as always, her style--a mix of devil-may-care confession and emotional anarchy full of moving nostalgia for a lost world.

Pub Date: March 26th, 1992
ISBN: 0307877558
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: "Little, Brown"