COMMENCEMENT by J. Courtney Sullivan


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Four women meet at an all-female college and predictably remain constant allies as their lives unfold.

Sullivan’s unswervingly formulaic debut introduces Celia, April, Bree and Sally, united by their rooms on a shared hallway in King House at Smith. They instantly strike up enduring relationships despite their disparities. April, daughter of a radical single mother and the most overtly political, will later fall under the spell of a manipulative filmmaker. Bree, the Southern belle who arrives wearing an engagement ring, ends up an ambivalent lesbian with a lover named Lara. Celia, the most colorless, has a Catholic upbringing, aspires to write and gets a job at a minor Manhattan publisher. Neat-freak Sally, still grieving her mother’s death, becomes the lover of a promiscuous professor of poetry but later marries happily, the ceremony reuniting the women four years after graduation. In among the boyfriends, confessions and aspirations, Sullivan tosses descriptions of Smith culture (lesbianism, food disorders), meditations on mothers and a strong dose of feminism. But the narrative is a monotone, rising to a few late peaks with Sally’s pregnancy, Bree and Lara’s break-up and an implausible development surrounding April, who disappears and is feared murdered during an investigation of child prostitution.

Readable, but dated and lackluster.

Pub Date: June 17th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-307-27074-0
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2009


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