New Girls

( 5 )

Overview

The New Girls is a resonant, engrossing novel about five girls during their formative prep-school years in the tumultuous mid-sixties. Into their reality of first-class trips to Europe, resort vacations, and deb parties enter the Vietnam War, the women's movement, and the sexual revolution. As the old traditions collide with the new society, the girls lose their innocence, develop a social conscience, and discover their sexuality — blossoming into women shaped by their turbulent...

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Overview

The New Girls is a resonant, engrossing novel about five girls during their formative prep-school years in the tumultuous mid-sixties. Into their reality of first-class trips to Europe, resort vacations, and deb parties enter the Vietnam War, the women's movement, and the sexual revolution. As the old traditions collide with the new society, the girls lose their innocence, develop a social conscience, and discover their sexuality — blossoming into women shaped by their turbulent times.

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Editorial Reviews

Susan Isaacs
“A gifted storyteller...her characters are intelligent, brave, and witty...human and real.”
Pensacola News
“The author moves in and knows the world about which she writes. Good entertaining reading.”
Boston Globe
“It’s funny without sacrificing intelligence, intelligent without being pretentious. It’s all-around good reading.”
Susan Isaacs
A gifted storyteller...her characters are intelligent, brave, and witty...human and real. —New York Times Book Review
Boston Globe
It's funny without sacrificing intelligence, intelligent without being pretentious. It's all-around good reading.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060977023
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/28/2005
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: 1st Harper Perennial ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 1,399,132
  • Product dimensions: 5.03 (w) x 8.33 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

Beth Gutcheon

Beth Gutcheon is the critically acclaimed author of eight previous novels: The New Girls, Still Missing, Domestic Pleasures, Saying Grace, Five Fortunes, More Than You Know, Leeway Cottage, and Good-bye and Amen. She is the writer of several film scripts, including the Academy-Award nominee The Children of Theatre Street. She lives in New York City.

Biography

Beth Gutcheon is the critically acclaimed author of eight previous novels: The New Girls, Still Missing, Domestic Pleasures, Saying Grace, Five Fortunes, More Than You Know, Leeway Cottage, and Goodbye and Amen. She is the writer of several film scripts, including the Academy Award nominee The Children of Theatre Street. She lives in New York City.

Good To Know

Gutcheon shared some fun and fascinating anecdotes in our interview:

"When my second novel was in manuscript, a subsidiary rights guy at my publisher secretly sent a copy of it to a friend who was working in Hollywood with the producer Stanley Jaffe, who had made Goodbye Columbus, The Bad News Bears, and Kramer v. Kramer, run Paramount Pictures before he was 30, and met the queen of England. My agent had an auction set up for the film rights of Still Missing for the following Friday, with some very heavy-hitter producers and such, which was exciting enough. Two days before the auction, Stanley Jaffe walked into my agent's office in New York and said, ‘I want to make a pre-emptive bid for Beth Gutcheon's novel.'

‘But you haven't read it,' says Wendy.

‘Nevertheless,' says Stanley.

‘Well, I have this auction set up. You're going to have to pay a lot to have me call it off,' says Wendy.

‘I understand that,' says Stanley.

Wendy named a number.

Stanley said, ‘Done,' or words to that effect.

To this day, remembering Wendy's next phone call to me causes me something resembling a heart attack.

When, several weeks later, Stanley called and asked me if I had an interest in writing the screenplay of the movie that became Without a Trace, I said, ‘No.'

He quite rightly hung up on me.

I then spent twenty minutes in a quiet room wondering what I had done. A man with a shelf full of Oscars, on cozy terms with Lizzie Windsor, had just offered me film school for one, all expenses paid by Twentieth Century Fox. He knew I didn't know how to write screenplays. He wasn't offering to hire me because he wanted to see me fail. Who cares that all I ever wanted to see on my tombstone was ‘She Wrote a Good Book?' The chance to learn something new that was both hard and really interesting was not resistible. I spent the rest of the weekend tracking him from airport to airport until I could get him back on the phone. (This was before we all had cell phones.)

I was sitting in my bleak office on a wet gray day, on which my newly teenaged son had shaved his head and I had just realized I'd lost my American Express card, when the phone rang. ‘Is this Beth Gutcheon?' asked a voice that made my hair stand on end. I said it was. ‘This is Paul Newman,' said the voice.

It was, too. The fine Italian hand of Stanley Jaffe again, he'd recommended me to work on a script Paul was developing. Paul invited me to dinner to talk about it. My son said, ‘For heaven's sake, Mother, don't be early and don't be tall.' I was both. We did end up writing a script together; it was eventually made for television with Christine Lahti, and fabulous Terry O'Quinn in the Paul Newman part, called The Good Fight."

"I read all the time. My husband claims I take baths instead of showers because I can't figure out how to read in the shower, and he's right."

"I started buying poetry for the first time since college after 9/11, but wasn't reading it until a friend mentioned that she and her husband read poetry in the morning before they have breakfast. She is right -- a pot of tea and a quiet table in morning sunlight is exactly the right time for poetry. I read The New York Times Book Review in the bath and on subways because it is light and foldable. I listen to audiobooks through earphones while I take my constitutionals or do housework. I read physical books for a couple of hours every night after everyone else is in bed -- usually two books alternately, one novel and one biography or book of letters."

"I have a dog named Daisy Buchanan. She ran for president last fall; her slogan was ‘No Wavering, No Flip-flopping, No pants.' She doesn't know yet that she didn't win, so if you meet her, please don't tell her."

"Last little-known fact: When I was in high school I invented, by knitting one, a double-wide sweater with two turtlenecks for my brother and his girlfriend. It was called a Tweter and was even manufactured in college colors for a year or two. There was a double-paged color spread in Life magazine of models wearing Tweters and posing with the Jets football team. My proudest moment was the Charles Addams cartoon that ran in The New Yorker that year. It showed a Tweter in a store window, while outside, gazing at it in wonder, was a man with two heads."

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

New Girls

When Muffin's grandmother arrived at Miss Pratt's in 1903, she took the train up from New York, along with two other girls, three trunks, seven hatboxes, twelve suitcases, and a chaperon sent by the school to escort them from Grand Central. They were met at the station by the school stagecoach, and at the gate of Pratt Hall by the maid who was to help them unpack their things and redo their hair before dinner. When Muffin's mother arrived in September of '32, she took the train from Boston to Hartford in the company of her three best friends and her brother, who was on his way to Yale. Her friend Grace smoked a cigarette after lunch in the dining car. When Muffin arrived in the fall of 1960, the first thing she did was to search out the bedroom on the third floor of Pratt Hall where her grandmother had scratched her initials in the window glass with her diamond ring. Muffin wished she could put her initials in the glass there beside them, but she didn't have a diamond.

Muffin had two secret sorrows in life. The first was her nickname; she would have preferred to be called Margaret or Meg. "Muffin" made her sound small and furry, or like something to eat. At Miss Pratt's she soon discovered that everyone named Margaret was called Muffy, and all Sandras were Sandy, Louises were Wheezy (except for one Lou), and there was one girl each called Cibby, Gub-gub, and Peaches.

Her other sorrow was that she thought she was fat. She wasn't, particularly. Her mother, after six children, still wore the same size eight she had at boarding school, and clearly thought an ounce of extra fat a character flaw. While Muffin hadgained four or five pounds when she reached puberty, the truth was, most of the extra weight was in her bust. Muffin took to wearing Bermuda-length cut-off jeans and her father's old shirts with the tails hanging out, and when she looked in the mirror she saw a strange glob of a torso supported on slim strong legs. She mourned the bony body she had lived in for three-quarters of her life, and instinctively fell into the habit of keeping the new one under wraps.

Muffin wanted anxiously to be popular -- mwent on wanting it and working for it, despite all the evidence that she already was. Up until she was thirteen, she had been lithe and strong as any boy, and because she was quick-witted and a natural athlete, had always been much in demand with both girls and boys. Now she felt with despair that no affection her friends had felt for the coltish sprite she had been could extend to the unfamiliar thing she had become. When the boys with whom she had caught tadpoles offered shyly to hold her hand in the balcony of the Sweetwater Movie Theater, she pretended to be eating popcorn. Everyone knew that the fattest girl in the ninth grade, Peggy Higgins, had let Bim Burney kiss her breasts-everyone knew because he had told everyone practically as soon as the lights went on. Later, Peggy was hit by a bus and lay near death for almost two weeks, and the doctors said that her mountains of fat were all that had prevented her breaking every bone in her body. When that got around, it was the joke of the upper school.

Muffin went to parties, but only to dance fast to the Buddy Holly records. When the night wore on and her friends began to dance cheek to cheek and blow into each other's ears, which they had heard was very exciting, she would slip outside by herself. To the night sky, while the honeysuckle night breeze turned the maple leaves till their backs showed silver in the moonlight, she spoke poetry.

What lips my lips have kissed, and where and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain under
my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply;
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain . . .

Songs of experience remembered, quiet pains suffered in silence, appealed to her quite a lot. She also went in for long narrative poems about valor, sacrifice, and heroic accomplishments, mostly ending with the line "Smiling, the boy fell dead."

She nurtured a fierce conviction that someday life would give her a chance to show her own unusual mettle. Of course the dramatic circumstances in her case were always translated by her from shipwreck or battlefield to the sphere of romantic love, since the question of whom she would marry, and when and how, was really the only wild card showing in the apparent straight flush life had dealt her. That she would marry, and that she would marry someone very much like herself and live the rest of her life in Sweetwater or someplace like it, was of course taken for granted. You would have to be deranged not to see that the life that was her birthright was the best America had to offer.

The life in Sweetwater was a life of financial and emotional security, a life in which health, leisure, and proficiency at games were the real and the ideal, and where good manners mattered more than good ideas. The depression had come and gone, barely noticed in the blue-chip preserves of Sweetwater Heights. The war was over and there would never be another; the president was one of their own, a good soldier and a Republican. There was little reason to suppose anything would change very much ever again. The only really devastating possibility that was given any serious credence was the threat of the Bomb. It was mostly joked about; no one in Sweetwater would be so patently elitist and unsporting as to build a private bomb shelter. No, if the Russians chose to bomb Pittsburgh, the members of the Sweetwater Country Club would take their medicine along with everyone else, content to know that when the dust cleared, God would find them in dignified positions and clean underwear.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2008

    Not a fan of this book

    I have read a few of Beth Gutcheon's books & loved them..except this one. I just didn't get it & could not wait to finish it

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2007

    A realistic look at boarding schools in the 60s

    Don't confuse boarding school life in the 60s with life today! It is very different. It is very obvious that Beth Gutcheon is an alumna of an all girls' school as the way she wrote it seemed like it came straight from the heart.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2001

    I couldn't put this down!!!!!

    I loved this book!!!!! I also had to go to private school for 11 1/2 yrs. It was great to read through all the years: freshmen, sophmores, juniors, and seniors! I had way too much fun reading it. It was awesome to read about their friendships through all the years along w/ the relationships. I think every girl can identify w/ one of the characters or a mixture of two. Lets just say I would buy you all a copy if I had the money. Sound good? Well this book is great!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2000

    Timeless

    Any girl or woman that has grown up in an affluent enviorment will love this book. Though it was written in 1979-it could easily have been written in 1999. I related so much to this book after growing up in suburban CT and going to a small private college. I read it in 2 days and intend on reading all of Beth Gutcheon's books now. My friend that teaches at a girls boarding school is making this required reading for her dorm.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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