After the War

Alice Adams, Author
Alice Adams, Author Alfred A. Knopf $25 (320p) ISBN 978-0-375-40683-6
Reviewed on: 10/02/2000
Release date: 10/01/2000
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Reading this posthumous novel is a bittersweet experience. On the one hand, it's wonderful to be back in the Southern town of Pinehill, and to enjoy Adams's inimitable prose and her calm intimacy with the characters introduced in A Southern Exposure. On the other, it's a pity to realize that we'll never know what future lives Adams had planned for these vibrant individuals. WWII is raging as the novel opens in 1944; Yankee transplant Cynthia Baird is now ""an actively unfaithful naval wife."" Her husband, Harry, is stationed in London, and famed war correspondent Derek McFall is filling his bedDuntil Derek's roving eye takes him to another boudoir. The Bairds' daughter, Abigail, is off to Swarthmore, and her friend Melanctha Byrd will go to Radcliffe. Famous romantic poet Russ Byrd, Melanctha's father and once Cynthia's lover, is now married to luscious Deirdre, who will soon be on the loose to search for another partner. Implacably dignified Odessa, the black housekeeper, is worried about her husband, Horace, on duty in the Pacific. The usual large cast is augmented by the introduction of a New York Jewish couple with Hollywood ties, active members of the Communist Party, and their college-age children. Everybody is still lusting, drinking, filled with inchoate longings and awash with memories of past liaisonsDbut some are becoming aware of new social stresses: changing race relations, a freer sexual climate, the threat of communism. Adams's deep acquaintance with her milieuDSouthern speech, cultural assumptions, casual bigotry and lush landscapeDshines clear in events, dialogue and descriptive passages of almost palpable sensation. Her acuity with period details allows a smooth reference to the atomic bomb and the musical Oklahoma in the same sentence. There are innumerable funny scenes, two deaths, several fraying marriages and a few young romances, one of which culminates in a wedding. Adams knew the hard truths of human life: that people (especially those in the sway of sexual passion) often behave badly, but generally have good intentions; that hardship often prompts compassion in the most unlikely hearts; and that our time on life's stage is brief. Unfortunately, hers was too brief by far. (Sept.) FYI: Adams died in 1997.
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