Alice Boyd Adams was raised on a farm south of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where her father, Nicholson Barney Adams, taught Spanish at the local university. She graduated from Radcliffe College in 1945 and married Mark Linenthal, Jr., two years later. After spending some time in Paris, where Linenthal studied at the Sorbonne, the couple settled in California, where Linenthal taught English at San Francisco State University while completing his doctoral work for Stanford University. Their son, Peter Adams Linenthal, was born in 1951; Adams and Linenthal were divorced in 1958.
Adams’s first novel, Careless Love, published after the author had turned forty years old, quickly found an enthusiastic audience, particularly among women. The book tells the story of an adventuresome heroine, Daisy Duke Fabbri, who, eager to experience life, leaves a weak husband for a lover and a Latin lothario.
In her next novel, Families and Survivors, Adams chronicles the post-World War II lives of Louisa Calloway and Kate Flichinger, from their friendship as teenagers to the vicissitudes of marriage and divorce. Through Louisa’s hippie daughter the story comes full circle, for she is as different from Louisa as Louisa was from her own mother.
In Listening to Billie, Adams examines intense psychosexual situations. Evan Quarles, a professor and the husband of the heroine, Eliza, falls in love with “the most beautiful boy in the world,” a student in his Cicero class. Unable to cope with the situation, Evan commits suicide, as Eliza’s father had done. When thereupon both she and her stepsister Daria become infatuated with the same “most beautiful boy in the world,” Eliza begins to understand her husband’s obsession and comes to recognize the vulnerability of a person into whose otherwise predictable and dreary life beauty enters. By the 1970’s, Adams’s short stories had found an audience in magazines such as The New Yorker, Redbook, Mademoiselle, and Cosmopolitan. Her first collection of stories, Beautiful Girl, brought her further attention as a feminist chronicler of her times. In these stories, Adams centers on beautiful, intelligent, pained women who examine their pasts and arrive at important conclusions.
Daphne Matthiessen is the protagonist and narrator of Adams’s fourth novel, Rich Rewards. An interior decorator “of sorts,” middle-aged, and divorced many years earlier, Daphne comes to San Francisco to aid her friend Agatha with the...