by Mary | 2/16/2014
" Initially, this book reminded me of every book I only read because it was assigned for school. Like medicine - good for you, but unpleasant. By the end, though, I liked it more and found a couple of characters sympathetic. It is a short book, but the history of women covers 5 generations, beginning with the original Dorothy, an educated - but not degreed - widowed, mother of a 13-year old daughter, Evelyn, and 10-year old son, James, who kills herself by hunger strike over the status (or lack thereof) of women. Or, perhaps she stops eating because she is depressed: unhappy with her own life, her son's clubfoot, life with her self-absorbed mother. Each of the subsequent generations of children are inescapably affected by Dorothy's decision to die, and equally unhappy with their lives. Evelyn and James, abandoned by their grandmother are separated: Evelyn sent north to a small boarding school during the war, and James sent to live with a family in California. Evelyn, one of the few fulfilled characters in the novel ultimately becomes a chemistry professor, living in Morningside Heights with a man who has lost his own wife and child. Since Evelyn never marries or has children, the generations continue through James's daughter, Dorothy, married to a survivor of a Pacific theater WWII POW camp, Charles. Dorothy and Charles have two daughters, Caroline and Liz, and have lost one son, James, to cancer. Caroline - a Yale educated lawyer - has no children, but Liz - an artist - has several including Suzanne, and a younger set of twins. The book is narrated in third person, but through the viewpoints of the characters, and in changing writing styles, so that the chapters about the more recent events even take the form of blog entries and a social networking page. I almost didn't get there though, because the initial chapters are so grammatically garbled and lacking in guiding punctuation (didn't the English use commas before WWI?), with no plot or compelling characterization, that they seem not worth the trouble of reading. This is a discussion-worthy book for those who stick with it and get to the end. "