First novel by playwright/memoirist Anderson (South Mountain Road, 2000) tracks a single mother’s sojourn from New York to L.A. during the turbulent 1960s.
The nostalgic novel moves back in time as Callie Epstein, now in her 50s and a successful L.A. screenwriter, prepares to move from her comfortable Studio City home, where she has single-handedly raised her three children, to a writer’s retreat in the northern California woods. Callie unearths a box of home movies and reminisces about the trying years of her married life. When the kids were small, she and then-husband Irwin, a writer turned advertising executive, lived together in a Greenwich Village apartment. Often exhausted from caring for three small children, with no professional pursuit of her own, the younger Callie is Betty Friedan’s quintessential unfulfilled woman. She visits a succession of psychiatrists and diet doctors, who have nothing better to offer than feel-good pills. Goaded by her female friends to dabble in adultery, Callie encourages the advances of an older neighbor and actor, Sam Messenger. They meet in their shared garden, supposedly haunted by ghosts. The affair allows Callie an emotional outlet from her stifling marriage, but only temporarily. Eventually, the collective strain of drug and alcohol use, husband-swapping and putting on a happy face for the children begins to take its toll. When the rejected Irwin takes up with another woman and cuts off financial support, she reinvents herself in California, secures a job with a Scientology outfit in L.A. and eventually becomes a breadwinner. Anderson relies on telling rather than showing the transformative events of Callie’s life. As a result, the novel feels sketchy; important characters such as Irwin and Sam are left largely undeveloped.
Unsatisfying snapshots of a trapped, unhappy mother and wife.