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Friday, April 24, 2020

Book Review: Old Lovegood Girls by Gail Godwin

It's not often that a book really reminds me of someone I know, but this one did. This book about freshman college roommates reminded me of my freshman college roommate so much!

Feron and Merry are paired together their first year at Lovegood College, a two-year women's college in North Carolina, in the late 1960s. Feron's childhood was... difficult, and Merry's was fairly idyllic. Feron has been rescued by her uncle from a terrible situation with her step-father. Merry grew up on a famous tobacco farm with loving parents and an annoying but fun little brother. Over the holiday break, Feron was supposed to visit Merry, but there's a tragedy and Merry doesn't return to school. Feron finishes at Lovegood and goes on to finish her last two years at Chapel Hill.

The book then proceeds to cover their lives over the next sixty years. Both bad correspondents, they sometimes go years between letters and decades between visits, but it doesn't mean they're not close, and in fact Merry really is Feron's best friend. Because of the time and distance, they sometimes don't know incredibly important things about each others' lives until much later. But neither take offense at that gap, and in fact I think there's comfort in knowing there's someone out there who doesn't know about the thing and can almost be a Schroedinger's friend, who still knows the person to be who they were before the Important Thing. Some of the important things aren't unexpected--marriages, children, illnesses--which is not to take away any importance.

I recently read an article that said college friendships are forged in the forge of hottest flame--when emotions are intense, anxiety high, and one can spend pretty much ALL their time with another person--and that's a big reason why they often last lifetimes. I'm not all that sure about the why, but I agree they can certainly last. Having just seen my own freshman roommate earlier this month (when I wrote this, not when it posted) I can attest that it's most certainly possible to have close, special friendships where years go between communication and Important Things aren't communicated in a timely way, and the friendship is strong nonetheless.

In this novel is was lovely to see Merry and Feron growing up, growing old, growing together while they're apart. Neither one's life turns out as expected (what does?) but they are there for each other when needed. It was nice to see echoes of my own friendships, and to see some paths the future may hold. Women's friendships are often strong, and we also draw strength from them. I thoroughly enjoyed spending these decades with Feron and Merry, and wished I could have spent even more time with them.

This book is published by Bloomsbury USA, which is distributed by Macmillan, my employer.

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