The Bobby-Soxer

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Craig Towle, a world-famous playwright, has returned to his hometown in New Jersey, bringing with him his new young wife, the “bobby-soxer” of the title. The town suspects that he has come back to gather material for a new play, and he and his wife become the favorite topic of front-porch gossip and speculation.

For the narrator of this novel, a young woman in the first, crucial stages of maturity, Towle comes to represent not only celebrity and sophistication but also a link with her own family’s complicated and troubled past.

At the center of the novel is the narrator’s remarkable family, dominated by her autocratic and forbidding grandmother, a local matriarch and the remnant of a genteel and gracious past.

The girl’s mother, a transplanted Southern belle who becomes progressively addled by drink and personal disappointment, becomes Craig Towle’s lover when her husband leaves her for good. The father himself, a sexually ambiguous character who has long kept a mysterious lover in New York City, and the brother, an intellectual who is drawn into his father’s glamorous and eccentric way of life, complete this unusual family circle.

As we follow the narrator through personal relationships, professional triumph and disappointment, and all the rest of the trials of coming of age, we come progressively closer to the long-guarded family secret that lies at the heart of the novel.

The grandmother has for years concealed the truth about her sister Leo, and the discovery of that truth provides for the narrator and for the reader a profound insight into human psychology.