Second Chances

Alice Adams, Author
Alice Adams, Author Alfred A. Knopf $18.95 (257p) ISBN 978-0-394-56824-9
Reviewed on: 04/01/1988
Release date: 04/01/1988
With characteristic insight and sensitivity, Adams (Superior Women) writes about ""the over-60, getting into 70's group.'' Over the timespan of a year, and with adroitly managed flashbacks, Adams follows the lives of a group of old friends in a small Northern California community. Close neighbors now, their lives have intertwined in various places in the past; several of them shared a commitment to liberal political activism in Spain and during the anti-Vietnam War years. Celeste, whose husband Charles has just died; Dudley (a woman) who is married to Sam; Polly, who once had an affair with Charles; and Edward, a homosexual who lives with his lover, Freddy, have known each other for four or more decades. Now well past middle age, they are hoping to preserve their sexuality, avoid illness (they are all phobic about cancer) and maintain the quality of their lives. Each will suffer a major, dislocating loss, an intimation of their own mortality. Meanwhile, Adams shows this group in desultory, gossipy conversations that have the texture of real life: low-key, mundane. The tensions that lie under the surface are confined to stream-of-consciousness and intuitive insights. (Adams becomes a little tedious about the latter: too many characters have amazing intuitions and guess unknowable things exactly right.) Into this group come two young people: Sara, Celeste's 40-year-old godchild, herself long involved in political activism, and Bill, Celeste's mysterious, much younger suitor, whose strange behavior is never adequately explained. While most of the strands of the plot come together in satisfactory fashion, the reader may feel cheated that all the dramatic events take place offstage. This device does, however, allow Adams to convey with moving accuracy the loneliness and isolation of people, qualities that old age seems to deepen. For all that, this is also a book about survival, and the resiliency of the human spirit. 50,000 first printing; BOMC alternate. (April)
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