The Room-Mating Seasonby Rona Jaffe
New York in 1963 is a place of infinite possibilities, especially when you’re young and eager for the adventure a big city offers. Leigh, Cady, Vanessa/b>/i>
The masterful author of The Best of Everything takes us through a season of friendship, discovery, betrayal, and love to tell a story of four friends and the events that shaped their futures.
New York in 1963 is a place of infinite possibilities, especially when you’re young and eager for the adventure a big city offers. Leigh, Cady, Vanessa, and Susan meet when they become roommates on the Upper East Side. Nothing can diminish the exhilaration of their newfound freedom and independence—even being crammed together in a single bedroom with a kitchen too small for a table and chairs.
A casting assistant at a talent agency, Leigh is the level-headed one. Cady is a prep school teacher, emotional, passionate, and ready for love. Vanessa, a stewardess, craves her independence above all else. Susan is the mercurial, difficult one, and after one confrontation too many, makes a choice that will change the course of all their lives…
PRAISE FOR RONA JAFFE
“Reading Rona Jaffe is like being presented with a Cartier watch: you know exactly what you’re getting and it’s exactly what you want.”—Cosmopolitan
“Vivid and trenchant…Wry and very readable…A minor genius.”—New York Times Book Review
“Jaffe has not lost her wit, her keen eye for human frailties and her ear for the small but telling remark.”—Publishers Weekly
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The Room-Mating Season
By Rona Jaffe
Dutton BooksCopyright © 2003 Rona Jaffe
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLeigh Owen looked back at 1963 as if she were watching other people, almost strangers; not herself and her three roommates - so far away and different they all seemed. Sometimes it embarrassed her to see those distant girls, with their innocence and their juiciness, their long-limbed breathless sexuality, and sometimes it made her jealous. They were twenty-three years old, young and pretty and arrogant, excited about being in New York at their first jobs, living together in a nice, but small, apartment they could only afford because they all lived together. A town house on the Upper East Side: a brownstone (except that it was gray) with one bedroom for all of them, crammed together in their little single beds, a kitchen you couldn't even sit down in, a bathroom. Since the living room was used to entertain men, they put up with their dormitory-style sleeping arrangements: because the purpose of being young and pretty was to meet men, and eventually to marry.
Before they married they planned to live fully, of course. They were filled with wonder and optimism and looking forward to adventures. None of them was a native New Yorker, and to them New York was the magical city. Everything would happen here, whatever everything was.
When she looked at the few photographs she had of thefour of them in those days, Leigh was surprised at how soft their faces looked, almost un-formed. Almost blank. But there were all kinds of emotions hiding underneath those unrevealing faces: anxiety, doubt (despite the arrogance), and often confusion. At times they felt deeply inadequate. They knew they were naove, and they wanted to learn.
When those girls looked in the mirror it was to put on their eyeliner, to do their hair. They didn't question the face they saw there, or feel sad at its mortality, its impermanence. Age was a terrible thing, Leigh thought, at sixty now and knowing a great deal more. Age made you invisible. It made you know too much, too late. No one would want that knowledge at twenty-three. So of course, when older people told you what was in store, you thought it would never happen to you. Or, at least, happen so many years later that it was unimaginable.
They had been four young women on the cusp of great social and moral change; the end of the fifties behind them, the rise of the sixties still a few years away. They listened to Beach Boys music, they all wanted to look and dress like Jackie Kennedy, they knew there was civil unrest and that many thousands of people were marching on Washington, and that there was something going on in Vietnam, which was sort of like a war, but not really. The truth was they hardly read the newspapers.
They were Leigh and Cady and Vanessa and Susan. She, Leigh Owen, was the calm at the heart of the whirlwind; the tall, self-possessed blonde who got elected class president. She had always known she had responsibilities, although sometimes a moment of unexpected recklessness surprised her. Cady Fineman was the emotional one. Cady had strong opinions and stronger passions. Cady was the romantic one and, Leigh had to admit, she was a bit of a princess. Vanessa Preet was the gorgeous one, and the one who most needed freedom and adventure. The stewardess who flew high, even when she was on the ground. And Susan Brown? Well, Leigh had finally realized, as much as they knew about her, none of them had ever really known Susan at all.
Sleeping and dreaming side by side, they could not know that the decisions they made in 1963 would be challenged later, not only because they had been young when they made them but because the world itself was going to transform around them. And then, of course, there were the events in their young lives that no one could control ... the ones that changed everything.
It was late winter of 1963, and Leigh Owen, who was twenty-three and working as an underpaid secretary at the powerful Star Management talent agency, was tired of living in a hovel. Her fifth-floor walk-up apartment above a restaurant always smelled of fish and grease. It was one tiny room that looked out on a dismal street below her fire escape, and contained two twin beds only a foot apart - what could she have been thinking of, a guest? - two straight chairs, and a small dresser; a plenitude of furniture that made walking around her apartment an obstacle course that resulted too often in bruises. She had no air conditioner so it was hot and even smellier in summer, and her landlord was stingy with heat so it was cold in winter. No matter how much she cleaned it - and there wasn't much time for a single girl in New York to clean apartments - her studio still looked grimy.
She knew she had to face the fact that she just couldn't live alone any longer. She needed a better place, and she would need roommates, otherwise she couldn't afford the hundred dollars or more a month that decent living quarters would require.
She was an efficient person, as they often told her at work, and so it didn't take her long to find an apartment she immediately fell in love with. It was a one bedroom with a living room and kitchen in a stately old town house on the Upper East Side located on a quiet tree-lined street of other similar houses. It was only one flight up, which was a relief. There was an air conditioner in the bedroom window, three closets, and the living room looked huge to her, with a bay window overlooking the lovely street, and a non-working but still picturesque fireplace in one wall.
Excerpted from The Room-Mating Season by Rona Jaffe Copyright © 2003 by Rona Jaffe. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Rona Jaffe (1931-2005) was the author of sixteen books, including the bestselling internationally acclaimed novels The Best of Everything, The Road Taken, The Cousins, Family Secrets, Mr. Right is Dead, Mazes and Monsters, The Last Chance, and Five Women, as well as the classic bestseller Class Reunion. She founded The Rona Jaffe Foundation, which presents annual awards to promising women writers of literary fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. It is the only national literary awards program of its kind dedicated to supporting women writers exclusively. Ms. Jaffe was a lifelong New Yorker.
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In the past, I have really enjoyed Rona Jaffe's books but the enjoyment stops here. This has to be one of the worst books ever written. I almost bought it when it first came out at nearly $25. But lucky for me, I stumbled on it for $7 at a warehouse outlet. Actually, I probably overpaid by $6. The characters were not interesting, the plotting was weak and contrived and it took way too much exposition to explain the characters' motivations. Just like a a good sitcom ending at its peak, Jaffe should have quit while she was on top. Don't waste your time.
Room-Mating Season was such an engaging romance story. I really loved it!
Rona Jaffe is one of my favorite authors. New books by Jaffe have been rare in recent years but she does not disappoint with the Room-Mating Season. As most of her stories do, this one follows the lives of four main characters individually and intertwined with each other. I bought this book the day it came out and saved it for a weekend at the beach when I could read, undisturbed, all weekend. It was excellent. The characters were, in a way, familiar but also new and different. It was so hard not to speed through this to see what happens to each person and how their lives end up and this book had a surprising twist unlike any of her others.