The Good Daughters
Joyce Maynard
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Buy *The Good Daughters* by Joyce Maynard online

The Good Daughters
Joyce Maynard
William Morrow Paperbacks
304 pages
August 2011
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Born in 1950, Dana Dickerson and Ruth Plant are labeled “the birthday sisters” by Ruth's mother, devoutly religious Connie Plank. For Connie and Edwin, her loyal husband, the birth of the girls on a stormy Fourth of July night will forever hold “a special kind of rare magic.” From the beginning, the Planks and the Dickersons couldn’t be any different. Farmers in New Hampshire, the Planks have worked land passed down to them from many generations; the Dickersons, with their wordly and cosmopolitan ways, are "health food types" who are clearly ahead of their time and "not from around here."

Flaky George Dickerson fixates on the next big thing that can bring him fame and fortune. His wife, Valery, calls herself "an artist," a notion that doesn't sit well with Connie Plank, a traditionalist who believes the only art worth pursuing is that of “the domestic variety.” Besides Dana, there is also an older boy, Ray, a joker and a troublemaker whom everybody loves, particularly the girls.

As Dana and Ruth grow older, it's clear they share little in common. Ruth is more in thrall to the magic of Ray, handsome and so much older than she, and she’s far more interested in art than farming. Dana dreams of being a farmer like Edwin Plank. She has no time for Barbie dolls and is a bit of a tomboy who feels more comfortable in jeans or overalls. Born in a girl’s body with a boy’s desires, Dana is called “a freak” by her schoolmates - in 1964, “nobody talked about those things.”

Like stitches in a delicately laced quilt, Maynard threads the lives of Ruth and Dana through time, reflecting a complicated web of progress told in their unique voices. Ruth never quite fits into Connie and Edwin’s lifestyle - the church events, annual bazaars, the dependability of the farm, the steadiness and constancy. She is always questioning why her sisters seem so strangely disconnected from her.

Life’s possibilities and hardships as well as the capacity for longing are truly alive in this wild and beautiful story. There’s the Kennedy assassination; Woodstock, with its temptations of sex and drugs; Ruth’s desire to see a world beyond the farm; Edwin's love of strawberry-growing; Connie and her dark family secrets; Ray's escape from the Vietnam War; the '70s feminists, lesbians, hippies and artist types. Ruth at twenty-two is still a virgin, living a lonely, solitary, existence as an art student in Boston.

Dana eventually disappears from the landscape of Ruth’s life, but over the decades the women remain tenuously connected through illness and death, through accomplishments, tragedy and prejudice. Ruth finally learns the truth - the reasons for Val and George’s mysterious remoteness, along with Connie’s grasping earnestness and the chill wind of her disappointment. Surprisingly, Dana finally recognizes the deep, warm safety she always seemed to feel with Edwin. Echoes of intimacy reverberate through time to a place where memory remains in Maynard's novel, a gorgeously impassioned plea to the beauty of love and to the chaos of life.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2010

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