A new novel from Anita Diamant is an event, and The Boston Girl is worth the five-year wait.
When Addie Baum’s granddaughter asks the octogenarian how she became the woman she is, her answer takes the form of thisp book. In early twentieth-century Boston, teenaged Addie “finds her voice,” as she puts it, through the company of intelligent and caring friends and female role models. Born in Boston, Addie has a different mindset than her Old-World immigrant parents, seeing education and the world of work as providing opportunities her parents cannot comprehend her wanting. Addie is a “pistol,” and with humor and candor she describes a life that is by turns funny and sad, as she remembers the conflicts that arose as she pursued her dream of living independently.
Of course there is romance as well. Several false starts with unsuitable men are survived with the abundance of clear-eyed common sense that keeps her from making the ruinous choices that swallowed girls like her alive in early twentieth-century America. It is her friendships with women that form the core of the book, however, from her early summers at a seaside boarding house (the real life Rockport Lodge, meticulously researched by Diamant) to the bittersweet reunion in old age with her friend Filomena, who has charted her own rocky course to a fulfilling life.
Diamant’s narrative approach of having Addie tell her story to her twenty-two-year-old granddaughter has advantages and disadvantages. As the reader eavesdrops on what is presented as an intimate private conversation, Addie becomes so real that it is hard to remember she is Diamant’s invention. Still it is hard not to wish that the focus were broader, so that more could be brought into the story than Addie can, or chooses, to tell.
One of Diamant’s greatest strengths as a novelist is her ability to convey the dynamics and diversity of relationships among women, whether the backdrop is the great historical drama of The Red Tent or Day After Night, or the more intimate setting of Good Harbor. The Boston Girl honors the strength of women and the power of their friendships and shows how profoundly the early twentieth century was shaped by women like Addie Baum. This would be a good choice for book clubs and Young Adult readers as well.