Girl in the Mirror

As Mary Alice Kruesi:

Second Star to the Right

The Book Club
by Mary Alice Monroe
(Mira, $5.99, G) ISBN 1-55166-530-1
The Book Club celebrates women's friendships and the potential power of "mature" women. It's a reflective novel with inspirational words for those of us who are approaching middle age, unsure if "the best is yet to be."

Eve Porter's husband of many years dies suddenly. Although they had drifted apart recently, Eve is devastated by the loss and unsure if she will be able to provide for her two teenaged children so they can maintain their posh suburban Chicago lifestyle. She looks for support from the members of her monthly book club. Her best friend Annie Blake, an assertive lawyer, offers sound financial advice. Yet her own life is stressful as well. At age 43, Annie suddenly decides that she wants a baby, and her marriage suffers when she fails to conceive. In addition, she resents her husband's behavior when he sacrifices his principles to get ahead professionally.

Doris Bridges is a self-satisfied matron whose husband employs Annie's husband. She is quick to criticize others but is blind to her husband's adulterous and unethical behavior. But in her own patronizing way, she tries to help Eve.

The book club is rounded out by maternal Gabriella, who works too many exhausting hours to support her family when her husband is laid off from work; and Midge Kirsch, an artist whose perennial sense of isolation is only magnified by her mother's announcement that she is moving in indefinitely.

The novel takes interesting but predictable turns as the women cope with tragedies, trials and tribulations over the course of the next 15 months. There is a romance for one character, while two others square off in a heated rivalry that climaxes in a glorious confrontation reminiscent of the good old Linda Evans/Joan Collins battles from the "Dynasty" era. Unfortunately, Gabriella and Midge fade into the background, as if their stories ended up on the cutting room floor.

Doris undergoes the most interesting transformation in the book from smug matron to self-realized human being. Along the way, she dumps her shiftless husband, becomes a much better friend and makes peace with her aging body. Eve, too, realizes the value of her age. Early in the book, she complains that she feels invisible next to younger, slimmer women, but then she changes her mind:

"I believe that all women have these little epiphanies throughout their lives. Somewhere between forty-five and fifty-five we have another true awakening, every bit as powerful as the one in adolescence. Our children are grown, we've enjoyed some success in our lives, and we're looking for something else now to fulfill ourselves."

Midge concurs: "I see this as a time to be who we've always seen ourselves as being, deep in our hearts. The advice-giving wise woman or the heel-kicking rebel."

The book club motif is carried out via literary quotes that open each chapter. However, the true power of the book club lies in the support, love and friendship that endures among its five members. I suspect that women who have their own book clubs, and those who are approaching that "second adolescence" will identify strongly with this novel's heroines. While I didn't find this effort from the talented Mary Alice Monroe to be as satisfying as her melodramatic Girl in the Mirror or her fanciful Second Star to the Right, it deserves a favorable audience.

--Susan Scribner

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