cover image Margot


Wendell Steavenson. Norton, $28.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-324-02084-4

Steavenson (Paris Metro) returns with a layered if formulaic coming-of-age story set during the political and sexual revolutions of the 1950s and late ’60s in New York. At the center is verbally abusive mother Peggy Vandeloep’s constant refrain about her only daughter: “What in heaven’s name are we going to do about Margot?” Peggy first utters the question after Margot falls from an oak tree at age eight. The independent Margot, six feet tall at age 12, enjoys a privileged youth spent between her family’s Park Avenue apartment and their Oyster Bay, Long Island, estate, all funded by United Union Steel money. Childhood and adolescent friends include sympathetic Long Island neighbor Trip Merryweather, his three brothers (one of whom helps Margot’s friend get an abortion), and West Point graduate Sandy Full, a GI who secretly writes poetry. Scientifically gifted Margot defies her mother’s expectation that she marry and instead heads to Radcliffe, where she studies biochemistry under a professor who declares they’re there to “slice and dice the human genome.” Meanwhile, she pursues an affair with one of her lab partners and exchanges letters with Sandy, who encourages her free thinking. The Vietnam War and political unrest contribute to the atmosphere, and Steavenson adds rich scientific detail to the lab scenes, but the expositional dialogue and overly familiar emotional terrain tend to wear on the reader. This doesn’t quite stand out. (Jan.)