Ever wonder "How could that have happened?" when evening news has a story of some terrible event carried out by an ordinary person, somebody who could live down the street from you, a perfectly nice person never given to mayhem? Cincinnati writer Dorothy Weil tells us how things like that can happen in her new novel A Good Woman, which takes place mostly in Walnut Hills.
The good woman of the title was born in 1904 and lives to 1991, when the final shocking events of her life take place. This is a family story. The reader is grateful that Weil extends her tale in a brief epilogue (appearing at the front of the book, as it happens, rather than at the end) to tell us how family members, a few years on, have accommodated these events.
Mary Lou Friedman, citizen of the 20th century, like the rest of her generation must roll with the punches of continual change. She does pretty well until accumulated ill fortune pushes her to desperate acts. Meanwhile, during her lifetime attitudes to sex have changed, changed again and again. She finds herself wondering what she would have done if, at the time of one surprise pregnancy, abortion had been a possibility "for nice people." Their neighborhood over the years becomes a different place -- "It seemed everyone Mary Lou knew was gone, died or moved away. She sometimes felt like she was up past her bedtime." Wry notes, like "up past her bedtime," make Mary Lou likeable and understandable.
Weil is not one of those relentlessly sunny writers whose stories come out just fine in the end. Her people are flawed, difficult, alternately appealing and irritating. Like people who could live down the street from you.