NELL by Nancy Thayer


Email this review


A vintage late-in-life awakening novel set in Boston: a 38-year-old divorced mother, appealing if somewhat vain, gradually stops relying so heavily on the opinions of others, and changes into a rather bold, independent woman who can even, at times, revel in her solitude. A promising plot, however, is marred by constant repetitions and recapitulations; Thayer thinks nothing of telling us the same thing three or more times in as many pages. Nell was, in her youth, an aspiring actress. ""Now she was the not-so-stunning ex-wife of a not-so-important director, and all the acting she did was purely personal. Sometimes she was her only audience."" Despite the progress she's making at her job, managing a clothes boutique, and in raising her (nice but not cutesy) children, Nell wants to marry again. But all this sensual woman finds, at first, are lovers more than ten years her junior who work as contractors or lowly construction workers. Meanwhile, Nell self-consciously compares her life to contemporary, if slightly dated, movies and television shows. She takes a series of meditative baths and thinks her life resembles the movie Shoot the Moon (remember Keaton in her tub?)--and, indeed, for pages, the book is strictly derivative of that film. Eventually, while opening a branch of her boss's boutique in Nantucket, Nell falls in love with a rich man her own age, but leaves him when she learns he's just leading her on. The last pages give a (refreshingly) unsentimental, stark, almost Flaubertian look at solitude and aging. With its focus on one main character rather than several, and its clearly (if repetitively) stated feminist theme of late-blooming self-reliance, Nell proves stronger than Thayer's two preceding books (Three Women at the Water's Edge, Bodies and Souls) and a worthy successor to her first, Stepping (1980).

Pub Date: June 20th, 1985
Publisher: Morrow