cover image Her Own Terms

Her Own Terms

Judith Grossman. Soho Press, $16.95 (277pp) ISBN 978-0-939149-11-7

When this first novel begins, Irene Tanner is on her way to have an abortion; when it ends, the job is done. Irene's flashback contemplation of her childhood, adolescence and her years at Oxford comprise the rest of this skillfully written, beautifully controlled narrative. Genteelly poor, her father a soldier in WW II, her mother stiffly coping, Irene is the maverick second of four South London children. She clings to her mother, hoping to be singled out from her siblings for an extra portion of love, but she is rarely rewarded. The recipient of a scholarship to Oxford, there, too, she remains outcast until the all-male society of poets discovers her and introduces her to Roger, a history major, uncommitted and ready to initiate her into the art of making love. The book is a fierce but never polemical indictment of social mores and class differences; its expressive dialogue expertly conveys the unquestioning stolidity of Irene's farmer grandparents on the one hand and the brittle intellectual pomposity of her Oxford classmates on the other. Irene looks clear-eyed at both what she was and what she is becoming. Because she does not love Roger, or want his child, she makes her painful choice. Readers will be drawn to this forthright, bright and attractive character. (January 19)