by Meg Waite Clayton
Two Thumbs Up (I could really use a few more thumbs for this one--it's that good.)
The story takes place in a San Francisco Bay area suburb, in the years beginning with 1967. Frankie tells the story of her friendship with Linda, Kath, Brett, and Ally. Each woman has her own family, worries, heartaches and secret dreams. The story is told in such a way that the reader feels a part of the evolving friendship these women share.
After meeting weekly at the playground long enough that they begin to feel comfortable with each other, a couple of the friends decide they'd like to use their time together to do some writing. Some of the women are less interested, but they are good sports about it. Soon what started out as a playdate for the kids becomes a writing date for the moms.
As the story continues, the readers are drawn along as these women pursue their writing goals. But within this primary story, we learn of the secret burdens the various women bear. We rejoice with them as they learn to trust each other; we share with them as they celebrate the good and mourn the heartache in each other's lives; and we see them grow and change throughout the years.
Interspersed within the story is the societal growing pains the country is experiencing. The story touches on the women's lib issue, the peace movement, and racial tensions. The women themselves strive to understand these issues. Each woman brings a different background and personality as she reacts to and assimilates into her person the various social changes. Ms Clayton accomplishes this very adeptly. Her characters and their friendships are never simplistic or artificial; they way they interact and the degree to which each embraces the changing cultures is richly developed.
The book will also be helpful for an aspiring author, as the women work through various books on writing, such as E.M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel. Each woman has a "model" story against which she compares her own work and to which she turns for inspiration. A couple of the women are very adept at pulling quotations from books and calling to mind the characters and plots. And on one occasion the couples get together for a costume party with a "famous couple from literature" theme. All these snippets offer readers a constant sampling from a literary smorgasbord.
The author has included a nice appendix in which she offers a paragraph or two on each of women's model books and also reading lists of the others works cited. I know I'm going to keep our librarian busy with requests from this list, such as The Great Gatsby, Middlemarch, and Breakfast at Tiffany's; I'll also have to try something by Somerset Maugham and Sylvia Plath; and the list goes on and on.