A decades-long chronicle of friendship among five not terribly likable Americans and one Brit who meet while the Americans’ pilot husbands are stationed in 1952 England.
Peggy, resentful but dutiful wife of Vern and mother to Crystal, narrates with a semiliterate Texas twang that is not only irritating but indistinguishable from the voices of her friends, including Brooklyn-born Lois and midwestern Audrey. Betty, also from Texas, is the most domestic of the bunch (even though she’s married to the wife-beater). Lois drinks and cheats on her dopey but sweet husband Herb. Gayle just drinks, especially after she loses not one but two husbands to military deaths. Audrey is criticized for sucking up, probably because her husband, unlike the others, actually succeeds in his ambitions. But all are amazingly dimwitted, almost caricatures of ignorant Americans, arrogant toward their British hosts. The local Norfolk woman, Kath, with whom they strike up a friendship lives in abject poverty but shows a spark the others lack. The loose plot follows the women from 1950s England to 1990s America as husbands drop out of the service and marriages flounder or dissolve. Restive Lois stays with her saintly Herb and becomes a devoted grandmother. Gayle ends up a rich TV evangelist. Audrey is widowed when her high-ranking husband chokes on a piece of meat. And Kath completely turns her life around, opening a driving school with money she receives after a flood destroys her childhood home. When her marriage fizzles, Peggy becomes a wedding planner, though her newfound and exquisite taste is hard to believe. Betty turns more complicated and more interesting than the others as her upbeat approach, annoyingly rose-colored at first, takes on a feisty dignity after she leaves her husband and struggles, with limited success, to raise her three daughters alone.
British author Graham’s sixth novel, but first US appearance, covers all the usual bases of matinee fiction, from abusive husbands to death by cancer, plus (minimal) sex and a smattering of recipes.