Boston Girl Readalikes

For those of you waiting for The Boston Girl, I have a few suggestions while you wait. First, let me tell you are in for a treat in Anita Diamant's latest, about a young woman who works her way from tenement child to a social worker. Addie Baum is as old as the century when her granddaughter asks her, "How did you get to be the woman you are today?" The answer is this tale of the Progressive Era, World War I, the age of the flapper, and Prohibition told in a conversational style. Addie overcomes obstacles put in her way by expectations of her class, religion, and gender until she finds a true life partner and her calling. Like other Diamant books, there is a strong current of female friendship, as women Addie meets in the settlement house find their ways in the world as well. You're probably going to like it.

Now that I've got you all revved up for The Boston Girl, let me tell you what to read while the holds cycle through.  Away by Amy Bloom is also about a Jewish girl finding her way, though a little more literally. Lillian immigrates to America, believing that her whole family, including her infant daughter Sophie, was killed in a pogrom. After becoming involved with Yiddish theater (including as a mistress to father and son), Lillian finds out Sophie may be in Siberia. Leaving New York behind, Lillian travels the country via train, truck, and foot to get to a boat from Alaska to Siberia. Along the way, she encounters venal railroad men, prostitutes, wardens, and tattoo artists. All of these characters are well drawn and the situations run the gamut of emotions.

You may have to wait for Florence Gordon as well, but probably not for as long as for Diamant's book. Author Brian Morton has created an indelible title character who at 75, has lived life entirely on her own terms and cares only for her old friends. However, she is having some mysterious health issues and her son (a bit of a disappointment) comes to New York with his family from Seattle and disrupts her well-ordered life. Additionally, Florence gets mentioned in the New York Times and her publisher seems truly interested in her memoir. Acerbic wit, snappy dialog, and family dynamics make this book fun.

Alice McDermott has been nominated for the Pulitzer and won the National Book Award, and it's not hard to see why with Someone. It follows the life of Marie Commeford and her rough-and-tumble Irish American neighborhood. Marie has trouble seeing what's right in front of her, due to both physical and emotional shortsightedness. While Marie might be a perfectly ordinary woman, the story is keenly observed and emotionally resonant, from her childhood to her old age. The themes here are family, community, selfhood, and the "grace of a shared past." The appeal is the deep characters, the bittersweet story, and the nonlinear storytelling.

Still hungry for Anita Diamant and her stories? Check out my blog on Day After Night and associated tales.