What if it was more than friendship? What if Chloe was feeling the same way?
This book is typical of the “social issues” novels of the era: it doesn’t push the envelope as far as Norma Klein or Sandra Scoppettone’s work, but still manages to take in sex, Holocaust survivors, predatory older men, dead grandmas, dead parents, private school burnouts, private school virgins, and terrible swingers. Also it was marketed as a book about teenaged lesbians.
The Plot: For reasons that are never made clear, Valerie Hoffman transfers to the prestigious all-girls Garfield School on Manhattan’s Upper East Side for her sophomore year. She is immediately intrigued by a fellow transfer student, the exotically-named Chloe Fox, when Chloe doesn’t show up at the mandatory New Girls’ Tea in August.
When Val and Chloe finally meet, they find they have more in common than they ever dreamed and become fast friends. Both artistically inclined, and from outside of the neighborhood (Val from the Upper West Side, Chloe Riverdale), less-wealthy than their classmates (the Foxes are lawyers, Val’s mom and dad are a freelance writer and concert cellist, respectively) and both late bloomers. Val and Chloe soon discover their classmates fall into one of two categories: either wealthy delinquents who get high before homeroom every morning or too good-goody to be true:
“You know that girl in our class, Jacky somebody, the Greek one?”
“Well, anyway, the other day I met her in the bathroom, and she was buying Kotex from the machine.”
“Yuck is right. So I told her that I had a Tampax if she needed one, and she said- get this- her ‘mummy’ didn’t ‘permit’ her to use Tampax.”
“Exactly what I said. And do you know what she said? ‘Mummy’ wants her to marry a rich Greek yacht owner and rich Greek yacht owners won’t marry a girl with a busted hymen.”
The book is only 118 pages long, but Hautzig packs in the plot points, including the death of Val’s beloved grandmother, a holocaust survivor, from cancer, that leaves her usually cheerful and optimistic grandfather in a haze of anger and depression.
Val has also attracted the unwanted (…or is it?) attention of the divorced Dad of her babysitting charge, who is constantly trying to cop a feel when he drops off his son at his ex-wife’s apartment. She’s just not ready for any of this, and luckily she has Chloe on the same page. The two girls spend hours cutting class, exploring the thrift shops in the Village, and working on their art projects. By Christmas vacation the two are inseparable, so much so that Val begins to question if her feelings for Chloe are entirely platonic.
While the girls play at sophistication, these are definitely not the worldly teenagers of, say, Norma Klein’s New York (in her Love Is One of the Choices, published the same year, one of the main characters feels guilty about not being a lesbian “for political reasons”), and Val is mostly confused and anxious about the prospect of romantic feelings for another girl, when she’s still not entirely used to the idea of having grown breasts herself:
“And then there’s a choice; either I am a lesbian forever or I stop being myself.”
Tragedy strikes again, when Chloe’s father dies suddenly. Chloe is wracked with guilt, because her parents had hated each other, and she had hoped her parents would divorce and she could live with her father. Now her mother seems lost without him and Chloe feels responsible for keeping her company 24/7.
Val has taken a job in the Hamptons as a mother’s helper for the summer, and the night before she leaves, she finally gets a call from Chloe to come spend the night.
While Mrs. Fox is out visiting friends, the two girls drink wine, come perilously close to confessing their feelings for one another, and then engage in some very mild groping after Chloe fakes a nightmare. When Mrs. Fox arrives home she sees the two of them curled up together “sleeping”, which causes Val to panic, sure that now she’ll be a lesbian outcast forever.
Leaving early the next morning without telling anyone, she heads to the job in the Hamptons to try and sort out her feelings.
The Hamptons chapters could have been a novel unto themselves, as Val has her labor exploited by terrible faux-hipsters (she can’t take a bath for the first three days because they are distressing their jeans in a tub full of bleach). She puts up with their three awful children (“Mrs. Baskwell acted like she had never heard of discipline; I think she must have read some screwy permissive child-care book”) and swingers’ parties that go on all night. It’s not until she is ordered to take the kids to the beach in the middle of a rainstorm when she’s sick and then finds that they’ve deducted the cost of the bottle of Dristan out of her paycheck that she decides enough is enough and call her parents to come get her.
But she still hasn’t heard from Chloe all summer, and by now she is convinced that her mother has forbidden her from contacting her for being a huge lesbian. After having a dream about Chloe, Val can’t stand it anymore and calls long distance (on Mrs. Baskwell’s tab) and clears the air. While her mother never mentioned the incident directly, but did throw away her collage of Vogue models, demanding “What kind of girl are you?”
But Val and Chloe are more confused than ever by their feelings, admitting they love each other, and maybe are even in love with each other, but hesitate when it comes to all that implies:
“Do you want to be my friend?”
“Of course, I-“
“Are you sure? You’re not afraid or turned off?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“O.K. Do you want to be my- my lover?” Am I saying this? I though incredulously. Am I admitting that it’s a possibility?
Ultimately, Hautzig pulls her punch a little: Val and Chloe’s friendship is restored, but both decide that they’re too young to make any decisions about sleeping with anybody. The books ends with a happy Val cutting up a new copy of Vogue so Chloe can start a new collage.
Sign It Was Written In 1978 Department:
Mom had gotten up to have breakfast with me, but I was a nervous wreck and couldn’t even embark on the Carnation Instant Breakfast she kept telling me I needed.