Reta Winters normally happy existence as the mother of three daughters, "marriage" to a successful doctor and growing success as a novelist and translator is shattered when her eldest daughter, Norah, suddenly withdraws from the world.
one is quite sure why Norah, an intelligent 19-year-old, has dropped
out of college nor why she has started sitting on a street corner in
Toronto wearing a sign around her neck that reads "goodness".
disturbed by this apparently unexplainable turn of events, tries to
continue life as normal, socialising with her friends and keeping up a
veil of normalcy for the benefit of her two younger daughters. As a
much-wanted distraction, she buries herself in her writing. But even
that illusion of escapism begins to fall apart when her very hands-off
editor dies and a younger, more domineering editor takes over.
On the surface Shield's story is deceptively simple. But the narrative is actually quite clever. There are three strands — Reta's ongoing quest for normalcy despite the puzzling behaviour of Norah; her book writing in which we, the reader, are introduced to her characters and her creative processes; and a series of letters in which Reta rails against the society she feels is to blame for her daughter's problems. These are all woven seamlessly together, so it's hard to know where Reta's real life intersects with her creative life.
All in all, this is an interesting, easy-to-read novel with a satisfying conclusion. But I couldn't help but feel that a writer writing about writing was a slightly cheap trick, something Shields herself alludes to on more than one occasion.