Saturday, June 28, 2008

Superior Women by Alice Adams

I absolutely love books that tell the stories of multiple, interconnected characters that span several decades (Serena will tell you family sagas are my favorite!), and Superior Women by the late Alice Adams is no exception. I don't know why, but I get a thrill out of watching characters evolve over time and seeing how things done by one character affect the others.

Superior Women follows Megan Greene as she moves from her parents' home in California to Radcliffe in the early 1940s, chasing a Harvard boy she met over the summer. At Radcliffe, she meets a group of girls: Lavinia, the sexy bitchy one, Peg, the motherly one, Cathy, the smart one, and Janet, who's not part of the clique. Megan is close to each of them at different points in her life.

(Spoiler alert...if you might be interested in reading this, you might want to skip to the end of my review!)

Each woman undergoes a significant transformation throughout the course of the book, which covers 40 years of their lives. Lavinia exuded sexuality in college but actually was a "good girl"; but as a married mother, she maintains the "good wife" appearance but experiences a sexual awakening. Peg's story centers on her discontent with being a housewife and the major changes she makes to find happiness, while Cathy struggles with loving a man she can never have and the tragic outcome. Janet marries a domineering playwright and has difficulty finding her voice. Finally, Megan struggles with her desires and affairs and the expectation that women of the time find a husband and start a family.

(end spoiler alert!)

The book covers the usual feminist themes, such as women overcoming sexual and gender stereotypes, and shows that while these women form a strong bond, they have no qualms about stabbing one another in the back. Adams gives each one their moment in the spotlight and begs the reader to ask, "Were they superior women after all?" They were superior because they knew what they wanted and were willing to go after it even if it didn't meet society's (or their family's) expectations. I believe they also thought themselves to be superior, given that they were women taking on the world and caring only about making themselves happy no matter the consequences.

As Janet's husband Adam says to Megan, "'You superior women have a real problem for yourselves, don't you. Just any old guy won't do. You wouldn't like him, and even if you did your strength would scare him, even make him mad. . . . I began to have some black suspicion that she was stronger than I was. . . . What you need is a hero.' . . . she is intrigued by Adam's view, though at the same time she wonders: is he simply inventing her, as though she were a woman in one of his plays?" (pp. 258-259)

Disclosure:  I purchased my copy of Superior Women.


Serena said...

you do love a good family saga. This sounds like an interesting read. I figured I would chime in about why you love those family sagas..its the sociologist in you!

Anna said...

That's probably right. That's also the reason I like reading books that showcase different cultures.

Alea said...

I didn't read the spoiler area, but this totally sounds interesting and it's going on my bookmooch wishlist!

Anna said...

Alea: I'm looking forward to reading your review! I hope you enjoy it!

-blessed holy socks, the non-perishable-zealot said...

I must meet you in the Great Beyond. God bless.