Toth recaptures a past in which men were absent from women’s colleges and academic achievement was a priority, at least among the students she knew. Critics have praised Toth for her balance: She neither yearns nostalgically for her college days nor implies that everything is far better today than it was in the 1950’s and early 1960’s.
She writes perceptively about relationships, affectionately recalling the love and support that she received from her mother, whom she wanted to please all of her life. Toth recognized only belatedly that her burden of perfectionism was self-imposed. The most telling example of this misperception is her anguish over not being able to present her mother with the achievement of a summa cum laude degree when her mother was entirely satisfied with the magna cum laude degree that Toth received.
Toth celebrates friendships among women and expresses her regret over the lack of trust and honesty that was typical of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. She warmly recalls her friendships with her beautiful roommate Sophie and her campus big sister, Dulie, who advised her about what courses to take and coached her on drinking and smoking. Most of the young women with whom she lived and worked, however, kept their hidden selves secret from one another. Toth puzzled over the wild students, fantasizing that she knew which of them were among the third of her senior class who admitted in a poll to being nonvirgins, but she was never able to talk frankly about sex herself.
Toth ruefully acknowledges that the isolation she felt at Smith was worsened by her confusion over sex and her fallible taste in boyfriends. She details awkward entanglements with nice young men and painful attractions to aloof and angry ones,...
(The entire section is 725 words.)