Martha Moody, Author . Riverhead $25.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-57322-188-7

First novels that track a pair of friends from college days through their subsequent lives aren't exactly uncommon, but Moody's is so freshly observed and gifted with such a palpable sense of the ravages of time that it feels utterly new. Clare, the narrator, is a prematurely cynical Ohio girl, daughter of a left-wing schoolteacher, who says up-front that all she wanted out of college when she went to Oberlin in 1973 was "unrest and demonstrations." Sally Rose is her roommate, an apparently naïve, sheltered kid from a wealthy Los Angeles family whose occasional sly wit and perfect word choices appeal to Clare. The girls grow close, and soon Clare is making regular visits to the big house off Mulholland Drive where Sid, Sally's indulgent, wise-guy father, seems to cast a spell over a happy household. Sally never questions the source of the family wealth, but inquisitive Clare does—and that is the first of many shocks that unfold as the shadows begin to gather around the Roses. Sally's bright, perky younger brother, Ben, turns into a haunted druggie; their mother, ace cook Esther, becomes increasingly remote; Sid begins a long decline into Alzheimer's. Yet despite their geographical distance, the two girls, Sally going into law of a peculiarly California kind, Clare becoming a hardheaded doctor with a specialty in AIDS, never lose their deep attachment, which somehow sustains them through a darkening landscape. They both suffer their share of unhappy relationships—and here Moody's skills at character drawing, already clear in her portraits of Sid and Ben, take full rein—and both come to rueful realization of their limitations, and those of life itself. Even in its dying fall, however, the book never loses its edge, at once compassionate and humorous, nor its moving conviction that a strong friendship between women can be one of life's most powerful relationships. (June)

Reviewed on: 05/28/2001
Release date: 06/01/2001
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