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The Best of Everything

by Rona Jaffe

In the old apartment houses of New York where tenants are not allowed air conditioning or cannot afford it, summer nights are a time to go to yet another air-conditioned movie, to linger for hours in a cold restaurant, or to sit on a balcony or a fire escape. On just such a hot night in the summer of 1952, five girls stayed awake thinking of love and careers and worrying, each in her own different way. THE BEST OF EVERYTHING is the fresh, lively and honest account of their adventures as young women in search of love and marriage.

When THE BEST OF EVERYTHING was written there was no such thing as the Pill, and only back street abortion was available. No one spoke of such things, or of their dates with married men, or of not being a virgin, or of sexual harassment. The author, Rona Jaffe, was a young struggling writer in her twenties when she wrote this novel, and the book was written on a manual typewriter. Because she hadn't made a carbon copy and there were no copying machines, the manuscript had to be sent out to a typing service for copies to be made. Although she thought of it as a cautionary tale, it became an immediate best seller: "Because an exciting life, even if very difficult, is better than a dull one, even if it changes you forever".

Before there were seatbelts, or videos, or mobiles, or texts, and only black and white television, computers were in their earliest infancy, and records were played on gramaphones; stocking seams had to be straight, Box Brownies were common and Kodaks expensive, and travellers crossed the Atlantic on liners called the Queen Mary or the Queen Elizabeth. Passengers rode in comfort from New York to California on the Sante Fe or the new California Zephyr, or a Greyhound bus if they were poor. Flying was for the very few and the very rich.

1950s American girls went to college to meet suitable boys and get married. Failing that they could take a secretarial course and be a shorthand typist until they met Mr Right (or, as often happened, Mr Wrong) and they came to New York in their thousands. Becoming an Old Maid was a fete too hideous to contemplate, and gays went to jail. Discreet affairs with married men whose wives had taken the children to Nantucket for the summer were frequent and hazardous. Well, but some things never change.

THE BEST OF EVERYTHING is a novel for those who love the HBO series, MAD MEN. It is a period piece, an antique to be treasured, a classic to enjoy for as long as boy meets girl, man marries woman, and we like to read all about it.

Paula McMaster

Published by Penguin - 464pp.

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