A shy girl from a small town and working class family, Charlotte is ecstatic to be accepted into the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop. She heads to Iowa City to find an apartment and meets the beautiful and beguiling Esme. She and Esme move in together and become best friends. Many years pass and Charlotte is a published author and tenured professor. Her university boyfriend, who was away in Italy completing his doctoral research while Charlotte lived with Esma, is now her husband, and he and Charlotte live a settled life in Tuscon. Charlotte and Esme are no longer friends; Esme moved away from Iowa and stopped answering Charlotte's letters. Out of the blue, an older, fatter, less beautiful Esme turns up at Charlotte's house and all of the wounds she thought had healed from the past reopen, tearing her life apart.
This book has some really good points. It is very well written and it is an excellent evocation of life in academia. I was not surprised to red that Evans herself is an emeritus professor - the academic aspects of the book are incredibly authentic. I also thought it did an excellent job of capturing the rivalries and love in some university female friendships, where neither of you are sure who you really are yet. It does have a few problems, though. Esme's husband, Jeremy, who Charlotte slept with while he was dating Esme and Charlotte was dating Will (not a spoiler - it's revealed in the first chapter) is so repulsive that it's impossible to understand why he would come between the beautiful Esme and the talented Charlotte. Nor did I buy that Esme would do what she did at the end of the novel - it was set in the 1980s, not the 1950s, and her actions seemed more suitable to an earlier time. Plus I found the ending of the novel such an anticlimax! Because the book starts so strongly but tapers off near the end, I wonder if it just lacked enough meat to be a fully fledged novel and the story might have been better suited to a novella format.
Despite these flaws I enjoyed reading this book and would definitely read another Elizabeth Evans novel. Three stars.