Three women’s lives intersect during the tumultuous 1960s.
Set in Chicago in the buildup to the 1968 Democratic National Convention and during the convention itself, Travers’ novel occasionally seems plotted at random, with characters’ lives crisscrossing by chance and important moments being disposed of in a sentence or two. Fortunately, the characters Travers has created are all compelling enough that the happenstance plotting doesn’t derail the book. The strongest character is Sophie, a woman coping with the death of her lover and a world that either looked the other way from her homosexuality or openly derided it. Sophie attracts two women on separate journeys of coping with loss and finding renewal—Rose, a homeless woman trying hard to forget the daughter she lost and unable to keep from pitching in when she sees a garden that’s grown unruly, and Zak, a young teenager from the South who’s been forced to grow up much more quickly than she might have otherwise, thanks to a mother who’s far from the parent of the year. Sophie and Rose are vividly felt women that Travers imbues with all manner of rich personality traits and mournful memories. But Zak, who bears the burden of much of the plot, occasionally feels pulled from a shelf of stock characters. Still, Travers creates such a believable bond among the three women in a short amount of time that when that bond inevitably begins to fray, it all feels believably awful. Similarly, the ending becomes poignant thanks almost entirely to the characters and not to the machinations of the plot. Travers is an expansive writer and many of the book’s early passages are filled with long sections that could easily be condensed, but there’s a very good novel in here, just waiting for some strong editorial guidance to bring it out. And if nothing else, Travers’ evocation of ’60s Chicago is terrific, creating a real sense of a city on the brink of catastrophe, where the forgotten citizens reach out to each other because no one else will bother to do so.
A solid, character-driven tale of the wild ’60s.