Autobiography of Us

Photo: Philip Friedman/Studio D

3 of 16
Autobiography of Us
304 pages; Henry Holt
Rebecca Madden, the shy narrator of Aria Beth Sloss's sharply imagined debut novel, Autobiography of Us, is ignored by her classmates at Windridge, until Alexandra Carrington, the beautiful and brash new girl, plucks Rebecca out of obscurity to be her best friend. In an affluent suburb of Pasadena in the early 1960s, Rebecca's family lives "tucked up against the limits of our means"; her mother, skilled in keeping up appearances, carefully budgets the family's finances in order to afford a club membership and dancing school for her daughter—the keys to landing her a husband. Alexandra brings vivacity into Rebecca's otherwise tame life, challenging the idea that the girls should submit to their mothers' limited expectations—to take care of their husbands, children, and homes. Alex longs to be an actress like Marlene Dietrich, while Rebecca falls in love with the "masculine" study of biology, lying to her mother about long hours spent in the library, poring over textbooks. After the girls head to university, their friendship endures pain and betrayal as the two are pitted against each other, caught between the oppression and upheaval of the changing American mood. Sloss writes with assured grace, capturing the conflicted sensibilities of a generation of women in these two, who, despite daring themselves to soar, ultimately fail, confiding in each other about the weight of their lost potential. 
— Abbe Wright