The central character of Jean Brody’s second novel, A COVEN OF WOMEN, is narrator Mary Megan’s Great-Aunt Vida, a statuesque, red-haired, unmarried schoolteacher who profoundly affects the lives of her various students, friends, and employers. The first chapter of this compact novel is focused on Vida and introduces the eight other women to whom a chapter each is devoted; the tenth and last chapter brings all the characters together in spirit in Mary Megan’s living room.
Here is Vida’s sister Elizabeth, who pries open the window she has nailed shut against the world to release deliberately the sparrow that will take a small boy’s fledging love for her along with it; Vida’s friend Emily, who communes with her typewriter as with a Ouija board; Emily’s granddaughter Becky, who edits other people’s lives, storing their unwanted memories in the attic of her own mind -- and several other remarkable yet ordinary women, each of whom harks back, in one way or another, to Vida, who “collected dead people” by writing them down and storing them in a wooden box, whence they emerged, as these characters do, to live lives of their own.
Beautifully written, A COVEN OF WOMEN nevertheless loses some of the verve and bite of its first chapters and declines toward a rather mundane denouement. The secret of Vida’s box is entrusted to Mary Megan, who starts collecting on her own. Mary’s yuppie troubles (a journalist in her early thirties, she is trying to decide whether to have a baby), however, force her coven of women to address all too baldly the issues their individual stories have far more successfully implied. Thus Brody tantalizes the reader in the most wonderful possible way, then pushes her point, stretching her metaphors until they dissolve into mere morning light in a West Los Angeles apartment.