cover image VIRGIN TERRITORY:  Stories from the Road to Womanhood

VIRGIN TERRITORY: Stories from the Road to Womanhood

Cathy Alter, Author . Three Rivers $13.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-4000-4781-9

A longtime interest in the mysteries of womanhood led journalist Alter to collect "first time you" anecdotes from women of all ages. Here, in 11 chapters (e.g., "First Frog: Kissing, Warts and All"; "First Flash: Candy from a Stranger—Porn, Dirty Books, and Obscene Phone Calls"), she presents bite-size chronicles of the transition out of girlhood innocence. As Alter writes, "The more intimate the admission, the more resonant my reaction." True, and potency is doubled when the story from the past is tied into the subject's current life: a subscription to the New Yorker delighted its recipient at age 16—and still does at age 78; a woman enthralled by pornography as a preteen is now a publicist in the adult entertainment industry; five years on, another woman still fondly values her brief, no-strings affair with her college ethics professor. Alter also chronicles—intentionally or not—an informal history of women's social evolution: she reveals the mindsets of mothers in "the generation that never talks about anything," fervent aspirations toward feminine vanity, rejections of being a "cute little girl" seeking matrimony. There's something here for every woman reader to identify with and be moved by, although after the relative pleasantries of the first 10 chapters, the final one, "First Farewell," may perturb readers with its theme of death. But this is the chapter that brings the collection full circle. As the final story explains, part of losing innocence is the discovery that "everyone has holes in their heart, and you still live." Agent, Dan Mandel. (Mar. 2)

Forecast: A regional NPR campaign and author interviews out of Washington, D.C., may stir up interest in Alter's collection.