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Looking Back

Looking Back

3.9 11
by Belva Plain

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New York Times bestselling author Belva Plain goes to the heart of what it means to be a woman, a wife, and a friend, in her powerful new novel—a story of love and betrayal that measures the limits of loyalty, friendship, and forgiveness.

They met at school and have been inseparable ever since: Cecile, confident, elegant daughter of privilege;


New York Times bestselling author Belva Plain goes to the heart of what it means to be a woman, a wife, and a friend, in her powerful new novel—a story of love and betrayal that measures the limits of loyalty, friendship, and forgiveness.

They met at school and have been inseparable ever since: Cecile, confident, elegant daughter of privilege; Norma, extraordinarily gifted and sadly troubled; and beautiful, ambitious Amanda, determined to rise above her humble southern beginnings. Two are married. One despairs of ever finding love. Three women. Leading their busy adult lives. Yet first and always: friends.

Then something unexpected happens that forever alters their long, complicated friendship. A pivotal event, a shattering act of betrayal shifts the balance of power between husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brothers. And in the months that follow, each of them will look at their families, their lives—and one another—differently.

And none of them will ever be the same.

Editorial Reviews

In Looking Back, Belva Plain explores the vagaries of the heart, the intricacies of love, and the fragile bonds of friendship, as three women who become fast friends in school find their relationship torn apart by a snowballing series of scandals. They call themselves the Three Musketeers: Cecile, whose poise, wealth, and grace seem to guarantee an easy life until an unexpected tragedy strikes; Amanda, a striking beauty who will sacrifice anything -- even her heart -- to secure the sort of financial security and social status she desires; and Norma, smart, attractive, and successful despite a powerful lack of confidence regarding one aspect of her life. They always imagined they would be friends for life, but when one of them makes the decision to follow her heart’s desire, it will have a devastating impact on all three of them, leaving their friendship in tatters and their lives forever changed.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
What begins as an engaging story about three college roommates brainy Norma, lovely Amanda, preppy Cecile and their differing futures takes a bewildering turn in Plain's latest domestic saga. When the three women graduate, Amanda, desperate to escape her lower-class background, marries Larry Balsan, Norma's brother, who is in the family real estate business. As Mrs. Balsan, she can shop to her heart's content, but she soon realizes she is not as happy as Cecile, who marries her college sweetheart, or even Norma, who is biding her time until she meets Mr. Right. So far so good, but the plot is thrown off kilter when Amanda and her aloof, widower father-in-law inexplicably tumble into an affair. The awkwardness of such a union bleeds into the prose, and Plain is unable to make the twist work there is no satisfying tension or electricity between Amanda and L.B., as he is known, so their passionate affair rings false. Plain (Fortune's Hand, etc.) compounds the problems with her plot by turning the steadfast Norma into a conniving schemer who, out of misguided loyalty to her brother, undermines Cecile's husband. The flowing story line, neatly resolved problems and intriguing exploration of family relationships that readers have come to expect from Plain are absent here. (Apr. 10) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Same old story: three friends meet in college and stay loyal until an act of betrayal pulls them apart. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
“An accomplished storyteller.”
The Washington Post

“Belva Plain is in a class by herself.”
—The New York Times

"Belva Plain writes with authority and integrity.”
San Francisco Chronicle

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Recorded Books, LLC
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Read an Excerpt

Books, purses, three empty bottles of Diet Coke, and the remains of a large pizza littered the card table that had been set up near the open window. Outdoors, green May was flourishing. Scented with lilac and wet grass, it was lively with walking traffic on the paths that crisscrossed the quadrangle from the Gothic library, to the glassy, modern science building, to the old redbrick museum, and beyond.

"Commencement. It's more like a conclusion, a funeral."

Startled, the two others turned toward Amanda. This doleful remark did not fit her. She was eager; her bright, blooming face in its frame of wavy, caramel-colored hair was always optimistic; she sparkled. Among these three young women, she was the one who would most attract attention.

True, there were some who would prefer the calm, classic elegance of Cecile. It was she who now said more cheerfully, "It's the beginning of something else, Amanda."

"For you, it is. You must be the only person in the graduating class who's getting married this summer."

"I know. Isn't it ridiculous? I feel like my own grandmother. In her day, for Heaven's sake, you were expected to do just that. 'A ring by spring,' they used to say." Cecile's pink smile made fun of herself. "But we've waited four years for him to get through architecture in New York, and that's long enough. We haven't seen each other since February vacation, when I went east, and I can't wait." With a sigh of contentment, she added, "I'm sure if it weren't for all this, I would be terribly sad about leaving here."

"Ave atque vale," Norma said.

Amanda asked,"What's that?"

" 'Hail and farewell.' It's Latin."

"Why on earth anybody should want to fill her head with that dead stuff, and spend the rest of her life teaching it to people who'll never use it except to teach it to more people who'll never use it, I don't know!"

"Surely not the rest of her life," Cecile protested.

"Why not? I happen to enjoy it," Norma said. "Anyway, I'm the family oddball. Always was."

Norma was plain, short of stature, and too broad of face. Yet, because that face with its keen roving eyes was so extraordinarily alert and intelligent, many a person, seeing her for the first time, had felt a kind of shock.

"You are not an oddball," Amanda said firmly.

"Oh, yes. Even my brother, who really loves me, really, really does even he says I am because I'd rather read than eat. Anyhow, enough of me. Have you decided, Amanda? Are you staying up here or going back south for good?"

"I don't know. I can't seem to make up my mind. One thing makes me mad, though. Nobody ever told me that a B.A. means almost nothing anymore, not my kind of a B.A., anyway. If I knew something definite, the way you know Latin, for instance, I could walk right into a teaching job, at least at a private school like yours where you don't absolutely have to have a degree in education. As it is, without graduate school, I don't see what there is for me." Amanda sighed. "So I might as well flip a coin. Spend the summer scorching here in the Missouri drought, or else cross the Mississippi and sweat in the soggy heat at home while I look for some kind of a job, though God knows what."

Cecile reminded her, "No matter what you decide, you'll have to come back up here for my wedding. You've got to be a bridesmaid. I'm paying the airfare and buying the dress, so no argument about it."

"Come stay for a couple of weeks with me," Norma urged. "I've a hunch that might help you solve your problem, if you know what I mean."

"No, I don't know what you mean." Amanda had a way of discarding at will, or else retaining, her native accent. Now, widening her eyes with puzzled innocence, she recrossed the Mississippi. "What d'y'all mean?"
Norma laughed. "You know perfectly well what. My brother Larry is more than a little bit crazy about you. He thinks you're absolutely beautiful."

"Well, so she is," Cecile said stoutly.

"Your brother Larry doesn't know a thing about me. I've been in your house only twice, for two weeks each time. What can you tell about a person in those few days?"

"You can tell plenty," Cecile declared, still stoutly. "Why, Peter and I both knew after the first three days, right here on this campus. Peter Mack, the senior, and Cecile Newman, the freshman! It was all unheard of, and still we both knew, no matter what anybody said."

Amanda studied her fingernails. Shell pink ovals with white tips in the French style, they were beautifully cared for by herself. She was thinking of Larry's latest letter that had come yesterday. By now, if she had saved all the letters, she would have more than a dozen of them, but she had not saved them. Thoughtful and quite correct, they were also far too frank and effusive. To be admired is one thing, but this was so sudden as to be absurd. And yet, here was Cecile with her tale of three days.

Obviously Amanda was thinking, Cecile saw, so she changed the subject. "Weren't we going to have somebody take our picture downstairs in front of the house before we leave?" she asked.

Norma said quickly, "Yes, but not today, and not a full-length picture. I need to press a long skirt first."

Automatically the two friends glanced at, and as quickly away from, Norma's legs. Shapeless and thick, the ankles measured the same as the knees. Held together, they were almost as wide as somebody's small waist. These legs were the bane of Norma's existence, bane being poison; in a way, they had poisoned her life or she had allowed them to do so.

In elementary school, the boys called me "piano legs," until Larry, my brother, was old enough to beat them up for doing it.

"I have no time now, anyway," Amanda said. "Sundale's Coffee Shop awaits me," she mocked. "Will you be stopping at Sundale's later, either of you?"

"You're sure we don't bother you when one of us comes in?" Cecile asked gently.

"No, why should you? Come and admire me in my baby blue uniform."
"All right. If I can get through some more of this packing, I will. But just look."
The small space, cramped to start with, was jammed with possessions. Cecile's and Norma's rooms-or cubicles-were heaped with clothing and books, all seemingly flung at random on the beds. More books were stacked in boxes on the floor. Luggage waited to be filled; it was fine luggage, leather and tweed, Amanda saw, estimating its cost.

"Oh, well, I'll save some eclairs for you," she said. "If you don't come, I'll bring them back and put them in the refrigerator."

"Suddenly I feel so sorry for her," Cecile exclaimed when the door had closed. "She never seemed to be the kind of person you'd feel sorry for. In all the time we've known her, she never once complained about anything. Today is the first time."

"She's been wearing a mask all the time, haven't you realized that?"

From the Audio Cassette edition.

Copyright 2002 by Belva Plain

Meet the Author

Belva Plain captured readers' hearts with her first novel, Evergreen, which Delacorte published more than 30 years ago. It topped the New York Times best-seller list for 41 weeks and aired as an NBC-TV miniseries. In total, more than 20 of her books have been New York Times best sellers.

Before becoming a novelist,  Belva Plain wrote short stories for many major magazines, but taking care of a husband and three children did not give her the time to concentrate on the novel she had always wanted to write. When she looked back and said she didn't have the time, she felt as though she had been making excuses. In retrospect, she said, "I didn't make the time." But, she reminded us, during the era that she was raising her family, women were supposed to concentrate only on their children. Today 30 million copies of her books are in print.

A Barnard College graduate who majored in history,  Belva Plain enjoyed a wonderful marriage of more than 40 years to Irving Plain, an ophthalmologist. Widowed for more than 25 years, Ms. Plain continued to reside in New Jersey, where she and her husband had raised their family and which was still home to her nearby children and grandchildren until her death in October 2010.

From the Hardcover edition.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
October 9, 1915
Date of Death:
October 12, 2010
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
Place of Death:
Short Hills, New Jersey
B.A., Barnard College

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Looking Back 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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BuffaloGal More than 1 year ago
I think Belva Plain has hit a new low. I'd expect this plot from a summer sizzler pocket book, but not from a writer of her quality. The "romance" was not so much romance as it was tinctilating. The women were caricatures, not women. The men, ditto. And the writing style? OK if directed toward 12 year olds, but again, not for devoted adult followers of this fine writer. Hopefully she was just having a bad year. For good Belva Plain try Evergreen, or Random Winds .....or a real, heartfelt romance by Deborah Smith, called A Place to Call Home.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is hard to believe that Belva Plain is truly the author of this book. There is little development of the characters and their relationships. The motives for Amanda's and Norma's bad choices are very shallow. I kept reading the book hoping it would deepen but was disappointed to the end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This story is one of the best I have read in a very long time. I started it and finished it all in one day. It was not possible for me to put it down. The characters were so wonderful and complex, yet they still appealed to you. I finished the book with so many emotions running in my head. I just cannot tell you how great the book was to me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great book with a great story line but it is a bit depressing. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
harstan More than 1 year ago
Norma and Cecile come from wealth with their families knowing one another for years. On the other hand, Amanda has lived her entire life being dirt poor. Only an academic scholarship allows her to attend the same university as Norma and Cecile. The three becomes college roommates and ultimately friends for life in spite of Amanda¿s background.

After graduation, the trio moves on with their lives, but remain friends. Over time, Norma believes Amanda is perfect for her older brother and dreams of the two of them falling in love with one another. However, not everyone in Norma¿s circle accepts white trash, albeit educated, like Amanda. Betrayal between friends and treachery between families and loved ones will soon test the strengths and weaknesses of the friendships.

Plain speaking, very few authors have the ability to develop complete characters for a wide ensemble cast while maintaining a strong story line. Belva Plain consistently furnishes her fans with deep characters involved in complex relationships inside real plots. Her latest relationship drama, LOOKING BACK, does all that and more as the inner thoughts and ambitions of the three friends are exposed with their deep-rooted values betrayed. Ms. Plain provides her readers with another intricate look at the human condition.

Harriet Klausner

Guest More than 1 year ago
For these three friends, love, family ties, betrayal and loyalty all become part of daily life. The readers will find themselves engrossed in clever plots and amazing innocents. The twists and turns in Belva Plain's newest novel are surprising. The loveless marriage and the complete betrayal of everything and everyone will expose the three friends to their innermost feelings about themselves. The dynamics of ambition and betrayal are stunning.