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Support

February 24, 2020

Well, I continue to be extremely me: I really wish Margaret Ashmun had spent more of Support on the business venture Constance Moffat embarks on at least two thirds of the way into the book. Other than that, it’s a good divorce novel, it kept me guessing, and the ending is satisfying.

When we meet Constance, she’s left her ex-husband Frank in New York City, and is returning to her family home in a college town in the midwest. It’s clear from the beginning–although not to Constance–that this isn’t going to be as comfortable as she hopes. Her father is crotchety and controlling, her younger sister, Rose, is running a little wild, and her mother is having a hard time running the house on limited resources. And then, many of the people she knew don’t exactly approve of her now that she’s a divorcée. Her best friend, Sally, is unchanged, in spite of two children and a pregnancy-in-progress, but Sally’s husband doesn’t like having Constance around, so they only spend time together when he’s out.

Frank’s generous alimony makes things easier, and Constance is glad to lessen the financial load on her parents, but it brings problems, too. It gives her brother Wilbur an excuse to bully her into lending him money, and bears on the balance of power in the house. And then a meeting with another divorcée sets Constance wondering if she should be accepting any alimony at all.

And then there’s Suzanne, the small daughter of one of Constance’s school friends. Suzanne’s mother is dead, and she lives with an aunt who loves her but doesn’t have the time or resources to give her the care she needs. Constance isn’t sure she wants to be married, but she definitely wants a child, and, increasingly, this child.

The man she contemplates marrying is Alison Sharland, an old friend who starts visiting Constance not long after she returns home. There are things that are attractive about him, and things that aren’t, and it isn’t clear whether he wants to marry her, but she spends a lot of time thinking about him. She spends a lot of time thinking about a lot of things, and finding new, more sensible ways of looking at most of them (her opinions on the subject of Class are meant to be sensible, but to the modern reader they’re just xenophobic).

I picked up Support because the description I read promised a heroine who went out and worked, but as I read I got frustrated, because it takes her a long time to get to that point. Now that I’ve finished, I appreciate the slow pace. I was no more frustrated with Constance’s surroundings than she was, and the sense and confidence and inner peace she’s struggled to gain make her quick business success feel earned, in a way it wouldn’t have otherwise.

This is a small book. I don’t mean that badly. A big book would give you an enthralling plot, or new ideas, or deep feelings, or a wider scope, and without any of those, Support can feel limited. But it covers its own ground well, and I’m glad I stuck with it through the several times I considered putting it down.

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