“The Best of Everything,” by Rona Jaffe
1958, 448 pages
(Review first posted on Goodreads)
This book was absolutely fascinating. For a plot that takes place in the 1950s, I was surprised to see as much scandal and sex. This edition had a 2005ish forward by Jaffe, and she shares that she wrote the book for a producer looking for a book to convert to a film. He was unable to find a book about a 1950s career woman, and Jaffe volunteered to write it, interviewing 50some working women in her research.
Which tells me: Some of the craziness in “The Best of Everything” is likely true or compilations of actual experiences.
What I found most interesting is how each character is a kind of piece of another, but her experiences are what shape her. Mary Agnes finds a perfect love early on, and she can easily gossip and appear shallow because she has no worries — her man is secure. April wants this kind of life, but a shitty man ruins things for her for a time. Caroline once had perfection lined up, but it leaves, and she has a kind of hardness the other girls lack.
One of the most interesting parts of this was how Jaffe starts each chapter. There can be months and months between chapters, and she starts each new section with a few thoughts about something related: how those we loved early in our lives shape us, how winter is so bearable because we have experienced spring, how it is often difficult to pinpoint an exact moment that changed our lives because that moment is often a minor decision we made that ended up shaping huge portions of our lives.
If this is the precursor to the chick lit out today, then the genre should try to get back to its roots.