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At first, I started this book not really sure if I would like Gloria or sympathize with her. Maillard loads his novel with detail and Gloria's shifting perspective on her past and present give a true picture of a girl on the edge of choosing her path. Even though it's 664 pages long, I wanted the novel to go on. Even though I was 21 in 1999 and definitely not a member of the upper classes like Gloria, I felt that Maillard has truthfully portrayed the confusion of beginning on life. The rich details (clothes, parties, houses etc.) place the novel exactly in 1957. The characters are outstanding; the relationship of Gloria and Laney and the grandmother is tense, but loving. I just can't say enough.
Being a male 5 years older than Gloria Cotter, I came to the book lured by the book blurb's reference to "John O'Hara country." No one has replaced O'Hara, of course, and I did not expect Mr. Maillard to do so, but I was looking for a novel that dealt with the 50s in the way that O'Hara did, revealing character and representing period by the accretion of countless details and particulars. I found this in Gloria, and it was handled superbly. The movement of the plot - forward through the summer of 1957 and backward through Gloria's earlier life, as well as vignettes about her mother and grandmother - was artfully done. Many subsidiary characters registered both strongly and truly; I was specifically taken with Trevor Bolton, Rick and Susie Stiebel, and, of course, Ted and Lanie Cotter. Often while growing up in Chicago public schools in the late 30s and the 40s, I wondered what life was like (or had in store for) the very pretty, entirely competent, and widely varied girls who were my classmates, and this novel articulates both their activities and their dilemmas with fascinating detail. My sole criticism of the book concerns the long section, told in diary entries, concerning Susie, Rick, Gloria, Tommie Jean, and the hunting trek the first three characters take: It was very long and the time shifts were confusing; I ended by reading the section twice in order to comprehend fully its place in Gloria's life. The rest of the book, however, seemed to me to justify its leisurely pace and its abundance of detail. I especially enjoyed the literary chitchat that flows through the book in contrast to the mundane activities of the characters. My compliments to the author.