Recommended Reading: “We Are All Good People Here” by Susan Rebecca White

This weekend I fell into a book.  I enjoyed it so much I did not go out of the house.  It was so humid I didn’t miss anything anyway.  On Sunday my husband insisted I accompany him to a coffeehouse, where, alas, a careless barista served me a milk latte instead of a soy latte. (The lactose-intolerant among you will sympathize.)

But that barely slowed my reading down.  In bed, drinking a 7-up (I do think that’s medicinal!), I continued to pore over Susan Rebecca White’s superb novel, We Are All Good People Here.  And I would recommend it to fans of Mary McCarthy’s The Group, Lisa Alther’s Kinflicks, Marge Piercy’s Vida, Alice Adams’s Superior Women, and Dana Spiotta’s Eat the Document.

In this engrossing novel, two friends deal with the political and social changes from the 1960s to the ’90s.  The book begins in 1962 at a small Southern women’s college, where Daniella, a professor’s daughter from Washington, D.C., falls under the spell of her charming roommate,  Eve, a wealthy girl from Atlanta whose mother and grandmother both attended Belmont College.  Daniella envies Eve’s ten cashmere twin sets (she only has three) while Eve is radicalized by Daniella’s political views.  Raised primarily by her family’s black maid, Eve begins to question the long hours and low salary of Miss Eugenia, the black maid in their dormitory, who is on call day and night except Sunday.  After Eve writes an indignant letter to the Dean about the conditions, Miss Eugenia is fired.

Daniella herself experiences discrimination  when she is blackballed by two sororities because she is half-Jewish.  It is the norm at Belmont College to”pledge” to a sorority:  she is one of two women in her dorm who are rejected.  Eve is almost more indignant than Daniella:  the girls transfer to Barnard their sophomore year.

Both are active in ’60s politics, and Eve is particularly interested in civil rights. She wants to spend a summer in Mississippi with CORE (a civil rights group) urging black people to register to vote.  The first rift in the women’s friendship occurs when CORE accepts Daniella but rejects Eve.  Eve begs her to stay, since the whole thing was Eve’s idea, but Daniella feels she must go, and records her experience powerfully in letters home.

Paradoxically, Eve becomes the more radical of the two friends, and during protests against the Vietnam War gets involved with an extreme leftist group, under the influence of her sexist, violent boyfriend Warren. She knows three of the Weathermen who blew themselves up while making a bomb intended to be detonated elsewhere.  Eventually, Eve and Warren move to Atlanta, living under false names because they are wanted on federal charges.

Nobody can keep up this level of political intensity forever.  Daniella becomes a successful lawyer in Atlanta, and Eve reinvents herself as a Republican housewife.  Their daughters are ironically raised by the maid Ada who brought up Eve–and Daniella drops off her own daughter at Eve’s house for day care.  Of course, neither daughter knows much about their mothers’ pasts.  And that becomes a problem.

White’s narrative races along, hitting the ground running, and the quality of the writing is high, after a slightly awkward beginning .  Hang on, because White can really write.  This is one of my favorite books of the year, and since it straddles the line between literary fiction and women’s fiction,  I hope White will get double the audience.