Chellis (Ordinary Women, Extraordinary Lives, 1992, etc.) narrates the lives of five women who forsook the 1950s ideal they were raised to follow.
Raised in an affluent North Shore suburb of Chicago in the 1950s, “the girls” were expected to marry the June after college graduation and become “nurturing mothers and yielding wives.” Instead, they broke the mold so they could “have it all”—children and a career—which paved the way for future generations. In the beginning, it’s hard to empathize with “the girls”—they’re wealthy, good looking and constantly traveling the country or fielding proposals. But in time, they reveal family secrets, grapple with unsatisfying relationships and face tragedy. While reunited to celebrate their 50th birthdays, the friends decide to share their stories on paper. Thanks to countless books, movies and television shows that document the era, their generation’s struggles are now somewhat familiar, but readers will nonetheless appreciate the honest recounting of these experiences, especially given how unspoken these topics once were. It seems that at least one of “the girls” was present to witness the most monumental U.S. events from the last six decades: one marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and later befriended Gloria Steinem, others attended Woodstock, worried about husbands fighting in Vietnam, and cared for AIDS-inflicted men in 1980s San Francisco. Chellis, a close friend of all the women (one wonders why she didn’t include her own story), alternates among the characters in quick one- or two-page snippets that can make it difficult to keep straight the five concurrent storylines. The writing is clean with a pleasantly surprising amount of detail, considering the necessarily speedy plot development. Readers may want to skip the preface, which features a section called “The Girls” that summarizes each woman’s life, giving away too much plot for those who want to avoid spoilers.
Like reading your mother’s diary: You’ve heard the stories before, but you appreciate her courage to share the details.