MacDougall, Ruth Doan. Snowy.

NY: St. Martin, 1993.

In 1973, MacDougall published The Cheerleader, a now-classic story of the struggle to get through four years in a small-town high school in the late 1950s and out into Real Life. The focus was the overachieving Henrietta “Snowy” Snow and her closest friends of both sexes and we learned a great deal about all of them by the time they graduated. Written twenty years later (partly, I’m sure, in response to the clamor of fans who demanded to know what came next), this is the immediate sequel, taking Snowy and the gang through the rest of their lives.

In the first of three episodes, Snowy goes off to Bennington while the beautiful Bev, her closest friend since Second Grade, enters a secretarial school in Boston. (There weren’t a lot of career choices for even bright girls back then.) Puddles, the fearless member of the trio, starts nursing school, also in the city. Tom Forbes, with whom Snowy is deeply in love but from whom she forces herself to separate in an effort to keep moving forward and to not be merely an adjunct to someone else’s life, becomes a shop major at a local teacher’s college but shortly switches to English, to everyone’s surprise. But, as they expect — especially the girls — most of the group are soon married and having kids. Snowy herself wants to be a poet, though she knows she won’t be able to support herself at that and will have to have some sort of job as well, so she begins working summers and non-resident terms for a publisher in Boston. But then, while researching a local poet for her senior thesis, she meets Alan Sutherland, an architectural historian working for a preservation project, and as soon as she graduates, she’s married, too. They will have to live cheaply for awhile, of course, but life is looking good for all of them.

Then the narrative jumps to the early ‘70s. Snowy has had several poetry collections published, Alan has moved up in his profession sufficiently to take some of the pressure off their budget, Bev has married her high school sweetheart (one of them, anyway) who is now a successful Connecticut lawyer, and Puddles is living in South Carolina, the wife of a semi-wealthy real estate developer who had been one of her patients at the hospital in Boston. But while they keep up with each other by mail, and on special occasions by long-distance phone calls, circumstances and geography are such that the three haven’t actually met face-to-face in a decade. And Snowy and Alan decide it’s time to finally have a child of their own.

The third section of the book moves another fifteen years into the future. The gang are nearing their 50th birthdays, Alan has thrown over the history business to attempt to make a living from a general store (he’s a classic burnout), Snowy is afflicted with agoraphobia (the reason for which is hinted at but never really developed), and their daughter is now getting her driver’s license. Since Bev and Puddles started earlier, their own kids are already moving out into the world. Elderly parents are dying off, the ex-class president has a dozen kids (for his own disconcerting reasons), and Tom has undergone a major life-change himself. Then a somewhat foreshadowed tragedy turns Snowy’s world upside-down and she has to come out of her cocoon and get a grip on life. But at least she has the help of a reunion with her best friends.

While it’s a good and mostly satisfying read, I have to admit this volume isn’t nearly as engrossing as the first one, perhaps because we already know the main characters so well. Snowy’s psychological disability also seems a bit stage-managed. But the author does a good job with the regret-laden bitter-sweet quality of life’s decisions and the effects they have on everyone else. And, since I’m only four or five years younger than Snowy, I found it easy to relate to her experiences, even though my own life has been nothing like hers. In any case, the last couple of chapters, with their harvest of coincidences (which are nevertheless believable) and slightly madcap action, are worth the price of admission.

Published in: on 29 April 2012 at 4:55 am  Leave a Comment  

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