Monday 14 October 2013

The Autobiography of Us by Aria Beth Sloss

A gripping debut novel about friendship, loss and love; a confession of what passed between two women who met as girls in 1960s Pasadena, California

Coming of age in the patrician neighborhood of Pasadena, California during the 1960s, Rebecca Madden and her beautiful, reckless friend Alex dream of lives beyond their mothers' narrow expectations. Their struggle to define themselves against the backdrop of an American cultural revolution unites them early on, until one sweltering evening the summer before their last year of college, when a single act of betrayal changes everything.  Decades later, Rebecca’s haunting meditation on the past reveals the truth about that night, the years that followed, and the friendship that shaped her.
Autobiography of Us is an achingly beautiful portrait of a decades-long bond. A rare and powerful glimpse into the lives of two women caught between repression and revolution, it casts new light on the sacrifices, struggles, victories and defeats of a generation.
Despite the title, Autobiography Of Us is a work of fiction, the debut novel from Aria Beth Sloss and published here in the UK in hardback by Picador on 9 May 2013, the paperback release will follow in February next year.

There is a something of a wistful air about this story, it is a delicate and sophisticated story that moves at a fairly slow pace, yet delivers a punch.    Beginning in 1950s Pasedena, California it is the story of a friendship that spans decades.   Studious, book-loving Rebecca and out-going, wannabe actress Alex meet as fourteen-year-old schoolgirls.  These are two very different girls, with different backgrounds and different aspirations, yet they form a link that remains for many years.   Alex can use her acting skills to impress Rebecca, and in turn, Rebecca can see and do things that she would never have contemplated on her own.

The girls come of age in the early 1960s and college beckons.  It is just before the first term that an event occurs that will alter their life paths.  Their closeness dies, they make their own, individual lives.  Rebecca is not happy, she has fulfilled her Mother's dreams, she has the life that was planned for her, but she is unsettled with her boring husband, but captivated by her two small children.  Although she and Alex are estranged, she continues to write regularly to her, but never posts the letters.

Rebecca and Alex meet again years later and try to take up where they left off, this is where the novel ups the pace, but things can never be the same for the women.

Told as as a first-person confession, penned by Rebecca, the story is a tale of struggle, of repression, of friendship and of betrayal.   At the forefront, the differences and the difficulties the girls endured, not just because they wanted different things, but because of the era that they were growing up in. The lack of choice and of opportunity in the 60s is highlighted, the secrecy that ensured that your neighbours wouldn't judge you, but that also caused extra pain and heartbreak.

A slow burner of a novel, but so evocative of the era, with characters that are often quite despondent but hopeful.

My thanks to the team at Picador who sent my copy of Autobiography Of Us for review.

Aria Beth Sloss is a graduate of Yale University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is a recipient of fellowships from the Iowa Arts Foundation, the Yaddo Corporation, and the Vermont Studio Center, and her writing has appeared in Glimmer Train, the Harvard Review, Martha Stewart Living, and online at The Paris Review and FiveChapters. She lives in New York City.

For more information see, her Facebook page or her Twitter feed

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