No News Is Good

Ruth Levin leaves New York City and moves into a large but rundown upstate Victorian house in order to be close to her mentally unstable husband, who has voluntarily entered a state mental hospital. Her neighbors turn out to be passionate reformers--a large family deeply involved in civil rights agitation, pacifist demonstrations, and college sit-ins. The reigning spirit of this family, Laura, is an earth mother who gives birth to babies and adopts needy youngsters with equal enthusiasm.

Although they quickly become devoted to each other, Ruth and Laura are essentially different souls. Ruth is Jewish, urban, and full of a sense of complexity and the need for stability; Laura is a midwestern “hummingbird,” nature’s child, and always ready to move on to the next experience. At first Ruth is exhilarated by the “speed” of Laura’s world. When Laura mysteriously disappears, Ruth has an affair with Laura’s husband, an English professor, and assumes Laura’s maternal role toward her many children, natural and adopted.

Laura returns as suddenly as she left; despite her husband’s infidelity, Laura holds no grudge against Ruth. Indeed, against Laura’s advice, Ruth decides to leave her ill husband to his fate and return to the city to rebuild her life. Ruth’s husband’s suicide forces both women into a harsh confrontation. Each still loves the other, but both have gained maturing insights into the fallacies of their contrasting philosophies.

Despite the crudity of the plot (Laura’s going and coming) and a breathlessness of language (dialogue stumbles over itself, and the pruning of countless sentences to fragments produces choppiness rather than precision), Julia Edelson’s novel is energetic, witty, and honest.