Abeel (Conscience Point, 2008, etc.) returns to a favorite subject here, following three women from their heady days at artsy Foxleigh College in the mid-1950s through the next several decades of hopeful and heartbreaking life.
Julia, Audrey, and Brett bond over their desire to follow a different path than the one expected of girls in their time, despite the paucity of role models and opportunities. They mustn't end up like classmate Lyndy Darling, who drops out of school to marry well and have babies. But they do desire romance, partnership, and a modicum of stability, unlike their other classmate Rinko Park, a Yoko Ono doppelgänger who cares nothing for convention of any kind. Stuck somewhere in the middle, the women forge ahead, buffeted by their own youthful decisions but also the classist, sexist world around them. Julia, a beauty with a knack for self-portrait photography, puts her art on hold when she pairs up with Bodie Curtiz—Audrey’s golden-boy half brother—for a marriage that fulfills half her needs beautifully while leaving the other half to molder. Audrey, having closed herself off to romance after a brutal rape, channels her energy into becoming a wildly successful author with a compartmentalized life. Brett, the most obvious choice for an author stand-in, is also the most realistic in that her thoughts and actions are nearly always at odds. Chasing after the Beats in Paris and then escaping to academia, she is her own worst enemy. Abeel’s gimlet-eyed narration is dense and vivid. Enough of the book takes place among the American gentry to qualify as escapist reading, and it comes laced with gleeful, biting commentary. Toward her three protagonists, she is unsparing and compassionate in perfect proportion.
Readers of Abeel's earlier books may not find much new here, but that may be perfectly fine. Those who haven’t tried her yet—women and men of all ages—should give her a try.