The Love Children

By the time of her death at age 79, in the late spring of this year, Marilyn French had published five novels and many works of nonfiction, including a massive four-volume history of women, From Dawn to Eve. But as international obituaries made clear, she was best remembered for her first novel, the 1977 feminist classic The Women’s Room. It’s fitting then, that her posthumously published novel The Love Children feels almost like a companion piece to that first work. The Women’s Room follows a young woman, who, like French, married in the ‘50s, divorced in the ‘60s and ends up finding like-minded women and her life’s work when she enrolls at Harvard. The Love Children, described by her publisher as “semi-autobiographical,” is about the choices made by young women who resemble the daughters of French’s generation. Jessamin Leighton comes of age in a tight-knit, multiracial circle of friends, clustered around Cambridge in the ‘60s. They are — mostly — the children of privilege; the children of well-educated parents, living in beautiful, if modest, historic homes, where gracious manners are taught alongside the necessity of having a moral conscience. But they also experience issues that seem new to their era: Jess’s parents divorce (he’s an artist who will have retrospectives in national museums; she, much like French, is finishing her Ph.D. at Harvard and chafing against married life); the kids experiment with drugs and later live in communes; Jess and her mother fall in love with the same man. Both Jess, the child, and Jess, the grown woman, maintain an essential optimism and belief in the power of goodness and a life well lived. If this is to be French’s final statement, it is one of exceeding warmth and good cheer.