THE LADIES' LENDING LIBRARY by Janice Kulyk Keefer (HarperCollins), 268 pages, $32.95 cloth. Rating: NNN
Janice Kulyk Keefer mines her Ukrainian roots in this tale peopled by smart women who, faced with limited choices, live with frustration and regret.
The setting is cottage country, where a group of second-generation Ukrainian families have staked their claim to the trappings of middle-class life. The year is 1963, just after Cleopatra has hit movie theatres, and the collective obsession with Liz and Dick is in full force.
Sonia mourns her mother's death and copes with her unhappy daughters. Her wealthy summer neighbour Nadia married up and can't figure out how that happened. Peter's married down and knows exactly why. Sasha is the community's glue and hosts the book club of the title, which is more often a bitch session undertaken while the women wait for their husbands to drive up for the weekend.
As usual, Kulyk Keefer writes lucidly and gives the events a strong emotional charge. The kids all competitive and hormonally challenged are especially well drawn.
A sequence in which they bully the slow boy and in the process humiliate another easy target, the gay boy in training, is quietly devastating. Another in which the sexually precocious 16-year-old hired nanny gives it up to one of the adult women's boyfriends is subtle but achingly real.
The problem here is that the book reads more like a collection of incidents than a story with a strong narrative arc. When the big something finally happens, we're left wanting to know more about its aftermath.
And, though it's too well written to qualify as bona fide down-and-dirty chick lit, this Library really is geared to women readers. Fleshing out the male characters might have broadened its reach.
But it is a savvy slice of pre-feminist life.