HIGHER GROUND by Meredith Sue Willis


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As in her fine first novel, A Space Apart (1979), Willis tests family love against the lure of that ""higher ground"" beyond: larger intimacies, exhilarating freedoms. Again, also, she probes the divisions between the small-town Establishment and those who don't measure up. Eleven-year-old Blair Ellen, only child of West Va. high school teachers who survived Depression poverty, knows that whatever decision Mother and Daddy make, ""they were just trying to make me the best possible girl I could be."" And somehow she senses that her summer friendship with the Odell children doesn't fit with this ideal. After all, smooth, secretive India and Garland (who practices dancing like a teenager with such strange concentration) live on a mountain with no electricity--a home on top of the world, with ""a great swell of grass and sky."" So Blair Ellen decides that India and Garland will always be her special friends, and they will ""mean just what I want them to mean."" But, entering high school four years later, Blair Ellen is secure in popularity and teacher approval; and now the hill children flicker in and out of her interest. She's drawn instead to the ""tough gloss"" of her neighbor Bunny, whom Blair Ellen--unconsciously manipulative--would like to ""save"" with the gift of her friendship. But Bunny, unsaved, elopes from her rawnerved household, so Blair Ellen eventually responds, sexually stirred, to Garland's curiously persistent need for her regard. And finally, Blair Ellen, now married and living in Manhattan, returns for her tenth reunion, only to find that social guidelines have become more intricate--but on a return to the Odells' mountain (they've left), she sees new possibilities for union in a segmented human landscape. Not quite the perfect gem of A Space Apart--the high school section lags a bit--but Willis' breathtakingly subtle soundings of homes and small towns (where everything and nothing happens) reaffirm her as a writer of real consequence.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1981
ISBN: 0965404307
Publisher: Scribners