Lisa Alther (AL-thur), née Reed, grew up in Kingsport, Tennessee, the daughter of a surgeon father who encouraged her curiosity about science and a mother who had majored in English and led her to an early interest in literature. She graduated from Wellesley College in 1966 with a B.A. in English and soon after married Richard Alther, a painter, from whom she was later divorced. Her daughter, Sara, was born in 1968. Alther worked briefly in publishing in New York; although she subsequently moved to rural Vermont, she still considers herself very much a southern writer.
Alther at her best balances broad humor with acute observation of an imagined world that many readers will find closely resembles the real one. In her first novel, the best-selling Kinflicks, for example, teenaged protagonist Ginny Babcock’s first lover, amid the awkward groping that has come to characterize many fictionalized first sexual encounters, suddenly surprises her—and the reader—with an eerily wormlike glow-in-the-dark condom.
In all of her work, feminist writer Alther takes a harsh look at the relationships among often hypocritical characters, their aspirations and roles in society, and the ways they fool themselves into a belief that life is proceeding according to some sort of plan. In Alther’s world, tragedy is not so much tragedy as a potential learning experience—or so Alther’s characters try desperately to believe.
In Kinflicks, Ginny Babcock, at her mother’s hospital bedside, comes to respect the way her mother faces death with quiet stoicism. In alternating chapters, Ginny looks back at the twists her life has taken over the years as she moved from high school flag twirler to studious, humorless Ivy Leaguer, to radical lesbian, to dutiful housewife and mother, to less-than-dutiful wife whose husband has informed her that he never wants her to see their daughter again. After her mother’s death, Ginny considers suicide, then changes her mind, packs up her mother’s clock and her Sisterhood Is Powerful T-shirt, and leaves,...
(The entire section is 850 words.)