Three women survive love and loss in Lerner’s debut novel, set in the tumultuous years from 1987 to 1992.
In alternating chapters, Lerner presents the interconnected stories of Rose, Jane and Eva. Rose, a lapsed Catholic who, at 58, deals with her mixed emotions regarding the death of her husband and her daughter’s unwanted pregnancy. Jane, meanwhile, reels from her husband’s shocking announcement soon after she finds that she’s pregnant for the first time at 37. In turn, African-American Eva, 38, admits her affair with a white married man. The narrative quickly reveals the connections among these three very different women; college friends Jane and Eva are partners at an interior design firm in Sag Harbor, and Rose meets Jane at the firm while seeking items to use in her work creating miniature houses. Eventually Rose convinces Jane to join her in protesting the abortions occurring at a local women’s clinic—one Eva designed. Throughout, the women struggle with their relationships with their husbands and boyfriends, as well as their personal views on religion, women’s rights and fertility. While the trio’s heated conflicts and emotional turmoil generally ring true, at times the plot feels overstuffed, with the inclusion of so many touchstones of the era—HIV/AIDS, in vitro pregnancy, abortion, sexual harassment—squeezed into the pages. Packed with realistic dialogue, minimal descriptions and present-tense narration, the book reads more like a screenplay than a novel, which underscores its drama. One notable exception to the normally staccato prose is the description of Rose’s home studio, which Lerner lovingly details. The periodic mentions of news events such as the Challenger explosion and the Anita Hill hearings help ground the novel solidly in its time period, along with smaller events, such as Jane not allowing someone with AIDS to hug her child because of the fear of infection. Unfortunately, it’s not until the last third of the book, when a serious life-and-death situation causes the women to act and not just react, that the novel begins to feel cohesive and compelling.
An overwrought tale steeped in the major feminist concerns of the late ’80s and early ’90s.