Iris Rainer Dart (The Boys in the Mail Room, 1979) comes very close in Beaches to writing a serious book about improbable, enduring friendship. That she does not quite succeed has a lot to do with her failure to develop the two friends equally--and given the power of her stronger character, it's an almost understandable failure. Cee Cee Bloom is a brassy 10-year-old from the Bronx, in whom the voice of Streisand, the mouth of Fran Leibowitz, the hair of Harpo Marx, and a wardrobe of sequined leotards combine to presage a star. Bertie White is a wan seven-year-old from Pittsburgh, in whom caution and longing combine to insure a lifetime of disappointment. When the two meet beneath the boardwalk in Atlantic City one summer afternoon--Bertie wailing for the mother and aunt she has somehow misplaced, Cee Cee trying to sleep off the effects of the midnight act at Jerry Grey's Kiddie Show--it is as if each believes herself rescued. In Cee Cee, Bertie knows she has found the vitality that is absent from the careful life her widowed mother has arranged for her; in Bertie, Cee Cee knows she has found reality, and love. The friendship proceeds--credibly if one has been an adolescent girl--long distance and for nine years before the two meet a second time, at a second summer resort, where Cee Cee is in summer stock, Bertie on vacation. For the next 20 years, the two friends will come together in repeated explosions of emotion, as if only in their contacts with each other does either find sympathy for what she believes to be her true self. And though their lives take somewhat predictable courses--Cee Cee does rise to the very top, and it's lonely; Bertie marries a cold creep, and that's lonely, too--Dart's management of it all is convincing, including the imagined betrayal that separates them for a time, the unlooked-for daughter Bertie bears after her marriage ends, and the extremely unlooked-for cancer denouement. In short, if Dart--no great prose stylist but someone who can write in a frenzied, energetic way that's often attractive (particularly in dialogue)--had somehow been able to conjure Bertie with the force that produced Cee Cee (so insecure in her stardom that she tips an elevator operator a quarter), the book would be more than the impressive effort it already is; it would be very good.