Here’s how my mind works: Garrison Keillor was doing the Writer’s Almanac and he read a poem in which he mentioned “terraces.” And, somehow, I found myself thinking about the Alice Adams’ novel, Superior Women, in which two lovers have breakfast on a terrace.
I love Alice Adams, who died a few years ago, but I’ve always been mildly, happily mystified by her ability to slip the bonds of “women’s novelist.” Her work has many of the hallmarks associated with that genre — glamorous cities, people with glamorous jobs, lots of adultery. And it dwells at length on real estate, homes and possessions. I can’t remember the name of the novel about the two mismatched lovers, but I remember clearly how he transformed her apartment.
But Adams’ prose is so good and her insight so sophisticated that no one faulted her for the porny lifestyle details. (Were there berries in brown sugar served on the terrace? Family china? I think so. I no longer own Superior Women.) I just cheated, walked over to the bookcase and found Almost Perfect, the book whose title I was groping for, and it all but fell open to the chapter where Richard has redone Stella’s apartment:
“[S]he cannot believe the transformation of her apartment . . . It is large and fairly bare, with huge wide windows, giving onto the deep-green, ferny Presidio woods. Where there were walls, now only a few supporting pillars remain, all painted a rich high-gloss dark brown. The floors have been stripped down to beautiful plain planks. In a far corner Stella sees her old bed, now discreetly covered in something thick and brown, and here and there about the room she recognizes objects that are hers: some wooden chairs, a small marble-topped table. But the long broad gray soft leather sofa — she never saw that before, nor the rich scatter of small Oriental rugs . . . It is a beautiful room; Stella can barely connect it with herself . . . “
Adams’ short stories were chosen for the O’Henry anthologies 20 times, according to the biography on Almost Perfect. As I said, I quite admire her. But I can imagine that passage, with its repetition of “beautiful,” being used to damn a lesser writer.
Me, I love knowing what kind of china is on people’s tables. Lightning round — what kind of dishes are on Tess Monaghan’s table? First person to post in the comments section gets an ARC of Another Thing to Fall.