Old Lovegood Girls (2020)

by Gail Godwin

If a friend told you how much she values you and then doesn’t contact you for many years, you might doubt her sincerity. But that’s the pattern in the friendship of Merry Jellicoe and Feron Hood, and Gail Godwin intends for readers to see it as an intense, close, and lasting connection.

Merry and Feron meet as first-semester roommates at Lovegood College. They are opposites. Merry is sunny, cheerful, and outgoing; the worst that ever happened to her is losing her dog. Feron is withdrawn, socially awkward, and distrusting. Her alcoholic mother has died, and she’s run away from her abusive stepfather.

But inexplicably, they click. Then tragedy strikes Merry’s life during semester break, and she can’t return to school. Merry and Feron don’t see one another for many years — a pattern that will continue the rest of their lifelong friendship — yet their bond holds. When they do get together, they pick up where they left off and exchange testimonials to the other’s importance.

Much of the story involves their separate lives, Merry’s running her family’s tobacco farm in North Carolina, and Feron as a writer living in New York City. They each marry older men who die, Feron’s in a tragic accident. (The novel has an improbable number of unexpected fatalities.)

Readers will get a clear sense of each character but may remain unable to explain their tight connection. Maybe that was one of Godwin’s themes — that friendship is mysterious. 




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