The Eleanor Roosevelt Girls

Bonnie Bluh, Author Lyre-Bird Books $12 (225p) ISBN 978-0-9664820-1-0
Through a lively sequence of flashbacks, Bluh (Woman to Woman) weaves a complex story of female friendships spanning more than 50 years. Upon hearing of her dearest friend Mallory's suicide, the bitter, grieving narrator, Julia, a successful playwright in her early 60s, reflects on her childhood in Sunnyside, Queens, a neighborhood fraught with tensions between its Catholic and Jewish residents. In 1937, insecure Julia, the brilliant, mercurial Mallory and six young girls of various religions and ethnic backgrounds find respite from home lives marked by absent, indifferent or abusive parents by forming a friendship club named for their heroine, Eleanor Roosevelt. As adults, the club members drift apart and into mostly failed marriages and romances with men, and the occasional harmonious lesbian relationship, as they build careers as disparate as fashion magazine editor, police detective, nun and dancer. Over the decades the women are repeatedly drawn together. Valiantly, sometimes illegally, they rescue each other from the perils of bad men and low self-esteem. Bluh's depiction of the intensities, jealousies, betrayals and loyalties of female friendship rings true; her portrait of the charismatic Mallory is particularly compelling. Mallory is both self-indulgent, carrying on an affair with, and eventually marrying, her friend Cynthia's father, and deeply generous, masterminding a plan to get her friend Claire out from under her monstrous husband's thumb. Julia's friendship with Mallory is as passionate as it is turbulent, and her struggle to understand her friend's suicide and to discover her identity apart from Mallory is delicately rendered. At times Bluh overstates her message of female solidarity, and this occasional flatness undermines the authentic, sensitive dialogue. But her flesh-and-blood women, especially Mallory and Julia, reveal the inspiring, necessarily complicated feminist vision at the heart of this fine novel. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
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