Monday, March 14, 2022

Then and Now, by R.J. Gould

RJ Gould, March 2022

Fifty years ago, four young people, three young men and a young woman, from quite varied backgrounds, started university. They lived in the same housing block, and were all studying geography. 

In the present day, fifty years after starting university, three of them decided to go to their class reunion and meet up again, for the first time since graduation.

Sandy was the only daughter of well-off, upper middle class swingers. This is never admitted to their daughter, of course, but in her teens, Sandy figures it out. She's smart, talented, charismatic, and precariously balanced her own wild teenage life with being a decorous and dedicated student--and finally settles on a new university that isn't at all what her parents or teachers anticipate.

Michael has a childhood troubled by the fact that his father is a kind, loving, gentle parent, and committed but utterly inept thief. His mother is honest and reliable and rigid--possibly understandably. She's certainly not wrong when she finally kicks her husband out for good, but it doesn't make Michael's life easier. School, and ultimately a grant that allows him to attend university, becomes his escape.

Jonathan is from a secular Jewish family, has two sisters, and is the tormented odd sibleing out in a rather intense sibling rivalry where his sisters always manage to appear innocent. At the grammar school he attends, he also runs into some problems due to being Jewish--a thing he feels no connection to.

Stuart is the mystery, the one whose childhood we get no glimpse of. We only meet Stuart when the flashbacks reach university, and the four meet on their first day of class. Stuart is intelligent, flashy, embraces radical politics that not uncommon among students in the 60s and 70s, is an effective speaker, and indulges freely in drugs, He's not there for their reunion; Stuart's fate is the painful secret that haunts the other three and ended their friendship not long before graduation.

But while that secret haunts them even at their reunion, they're all struggling with their own family troubles, that at first they are very reluctant to share. Three adults in their late sixties, near retirement, and with changes and challenges facing them in their family lives, none of them are really sure why they came to the reunion, not even Sandy, who was the one who emailed the other two, nearly fifty years after they last met, to suggest it.

What follows over the course of the weekend is a rediscovery of their friendship, a rediscovery of the tensions in it, and the unfolding and sharing of the current stresses in their lives--as well as, ultimately, confronting what happened to Stuart, and how it ended their friendship. Three adults with successful careers behind them, doing things they enjoy and care about, and with family members they love and care about for all the stresses involved, discover they still have a little piece of growing up to do. And since they are all decent, honest, kind people who have tried to live in keeping with their values, we want them to succeed.


I received a free electronic galley from the publisher via Rachel's Random Resources, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

1 comment:

  1. Lis, that's a lovely review - in fact you've written a perceptive synopsis for me. A huge thank you fir taking the time to read 'Then and now'.