An energetic, if not always persuasive, attempt to detail why a friendship made in college between two women endures despite family scandals, different lifestyles, and the men they marry and divorce.
Narrator Clare Man meets Sally Rose in 1973 at Oberlin College, where the two freshmen are assigned to share a room. Wealthy, Jewish Sally comes from California. Protestant, middle-class Clare is a native of Ohio. Sally is devoted to her family, especially father Sid, a publisher, who calls every day. Clare is impatient with her family, especially with her mother, a teacher. Though Clare is a free spirit, Sally more reserved and cautious, the two soon become close friends. Clare’s summer visit to the Rose home further cements the attachment; soon Sid, mother Esther, and younger brother Ben become as much her family as Sally’s. But there are no perfect families, not even in exciting, warm California. As Clare becomes a doctor, marries and divorces twice, gives birth to a daughter, and works with AIDS patients, the Rose family falls apart. Sally, now a lawyer, marries handsome Flavio, only to find him seducing Ben one day in the pool house. Ben then becomes a heroin addict; Esther commits suicide; and Sally tries to help her brother by buying drugs for him. Eventually, when Clare learns that Sid publishes brutally graphic pornography and may also be implicated in Ben’s recent death, she nearly stops seeing Sally. But true friendship survives all kinds of blows (there are more to come, too), and the women enter middle age as close as ever. Newcomer Moody, a Ohio-based physician, is at her best evoking the period, from the last days of college protests to the onset of AIDS. She is less successful in showing just why Sally was so important to Clare.
Despite good intentions, more about the idea of a friendship than the reality.