cover image Secret Anniversaries

Secret Anniversaries

Scott Spencer. Alfred A. Knopf, $19.95 (257pp) ISBN 978-0-394-57817-0

Taking its title from Longfellow (``the secret anniversaries of the heart'') Spencer's ( Endless Love ) new novel is an ambitious attempt to record a young woman's emotional, intellectual and moral awakening through vignettes illuminating her milestone experiences. Caitlin Van Fleet's life--quiet and obscure in itself--intersects with some of the significant events and personalities of the WW II years. Brought up on the estate of WASP gentry in upstate New York, where her father is the caretaker and her mother a maid, she goes to Washington to work for a senator who has close links with Father Coughlin, the German-American Bund and others with pro-Nazi sympathies. Bright but unsophisticated, Caitlin only gradually realizes the moral repugnance of the America First propaganda, through the efforts of earnest undercover reporter Joe Rose. At the end of her life she is proud of ``the strange path I've taken''--a life that has included both a passionate lesbian affair and a short heterosexual liaison that results in a child she decides to raise alone. While intrinsically interesting, the novel is marred by Spencer's decision to tell the story in abruptly shifting unchronological segments, a device that seems forced, and that prevents the novel from acquiring the dramatic momentum a straightforward account might have provided. (Apr.)