Alice Adams After the War

ISBN 13: 9780743422222

After the War

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( 82 ratings by Goodreads )
 
9780743422222: After the War

In a poignant final bow, Alice Adams' posthumously published last novel returns to the land of her birth and bears the supreme style and grace that earned her the reputation as one of the finest writers of her time. After the War Reviving the cast of her acclaimed novel "A Southern Exposure, Alice Adams brings the American South to vivid life through the residents of the small town of Pinehill. When they moved here from the North, Cynthia and Harry Baird sought a simpler place in which to raise their daughter, Abigail. Now, with World War II raging, Harry off fighting it, and Cynthia's string of affairs showing no signs of abatement, Abigail is bound for college where she'll have to face the complexities of life head-on. And as Cynthia grows aware of the bigotry and anti-Semitism around her, Pinehill suddenly seems less the idyllic Southern town and more a reflection of the growing pains of the nation at large. Evoking the internal and external worlds of Alice Adams' complex characters with the precision and pathos that watermark her body of work, "After The War is a charming and passionate novel that captures both the essence of an era and the spirit of a beloved writer.

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Review:

In the South, or at least in Pinehill, North Carolina, the setting of Alice Adams's After the War, "before the war" means before the Civil War. But in this sequel to A Southern Exposure (which introduced the displaced Yankee Baird family, their Pinehill neighbors, and their kaleidoscopic liaisons, and which ended as World War II began), after the war refers to a more modern era: after the bomb, after the various men have come home, when everyone supposes life will begin again as they once knew it. An autumnal, nostalgic quality pervades Adams's posthumously published 11th novel, partly because Cynthia Baird is a little older (her daughter has left for college and her husband is a naval officer in England where bombs drop and ladies with "rose petal skin" who are "good at riding and gardening, cooking roast beef and puddings" threaten danger of another sort) and partly because from our perspective at the beginning of the 21st century we well know that life never will be the same.

With her delicate, breathy, gossipy prose, Adams slips among her characters like a hostess at a party. Soon the bits and pieces, confidences and asides, fit together into a mosaic of personalities and events that illuminate the coming political and social upheavals of the late '40s. At Swarthmore, ardent, open-minded Abby Baird falls in love with a Jewish physics major with Communist parents. Melanctha Byrd, traumatized by her body image, drops out of Harvard where her brother discovers he's gay. Out in Texas the poet Russ Byrd, who's contemplating writing a play featuring the secret laboratory at Los Alamos, meets an untimely end in the company of a decommissioned black sergeant, raising suspicions of foul play. Meanwhile, back in Pinehill, "people were more aware of the state of Cynthia's lawn and her flowers, of their own lawns and flowers, than of the terrible but distant war." Cynthia cultivates her garden, spars with poor, silly Dolly Bigelow, and carries on a desultory love affair with a war correspondent, until he replaces her with someone else. Pinehill is, after all, a small and complicated Southern town.

With the precise ear and acute observation of a modern Jane Austen, Alice Adams weaves an artful portrait of a town and a time, bittersweet for one generation, perilous and full of potential for the next. Like its predecessor, After the War is a gentle, generous, and enlightening comedy of manners. --Victoria Jenkins

From the Inside Flap:

Alice Adams is considered to be one of the major American writers of the last thirty years. Her stories appeared in The New Yorker from 1969 and 1995, as well as in twenty-two O. Henry Awards collections and several volumes of Best American Short Stories. After the War is her eleventh and final novel--the brilliant coda to a brilliant career.

After the War begins where her acclaimed novel A Southern Exposure ended: in the small Southern town of Pinehill during World War II. With all the insight and grace that have marked her writing, she brings us close to Cynthia and Harry Baird, transplanted Yankees who moved south from Connecticut during the Depression to find a simpler world for themselves and their daughter, Abigail. But life in Pinehill has become more difficult since the beginning of the war: with Harry off in London to do his share, Cynthia finds her life complicated not only by her own loneliness but also by a growing awareness of local racism and anti-Semitism, and by the rising national dread of Communism. And as Abigail heads off to college, where she faces all the traditional complications of youth, we are drawn into an America caught between past and future, and two generations forced to determine what they cherish and what they must leave behind.

Alice Adams's depiction of her native South--full, rich, affectionate, and always one of her many strengths--is at its most subtle and engrossing in After the War.

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