Friends Along the Way

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Alice Blanders Russo, the keystone of the novel, is meant to epitomize all that is inherently intriguing in a woman. Unconventionally beautiful, intelligent, and bold, she has left her husband to live with a much younger man, Leo Conti. When Betsy Lewis first encounters her in Rome during 1968, Alice has surrounded herself with a circle of Rome’s best and brightest. Betsy and her husband, Doug, are flattered to be included, but they soon realize the emotional commitment that being Alice’s friends entails.

Later, after the breakup of her marriage, Betsy is emboldened to explore in person her own Italian roots in a small village and to retrace mentally an intense teenage friendship with a brilliant and troubled black woman. Her relationships with both Alice and Leo having undergone many difficult changes, Betsy leaves for New York, there to seek out her greatly changed girlhood friend, Salmanda.

Alice, however, estranged from Leo and his growing political interests, must face the inevitability of age and the consequences of her own manipulative actions, which end in a return to America and to a conventional life.

By her choice of title, Markus clearly means this to be a study of female friendships and growth, but her characters fail her. Alice is not magnetic enough to center the novel, and Betsy as narrator is cold and distant. Still, Markus makes a valiant attempt to examine all the permutations of human feeling possible between men and women, and the many ways we set our lives in order.