Gloria, a recent college graduate, class of '57, has everything a girl could want. Expected to make a brilliant marriage to a wealthy but conventional man, Gloria finds herself torn between society's expectations and her own search for a future that is both passionate and fulfilling. Her quest uncovers the intensity of desires, the gift of intellectual accomplishment, and the surprising power of friendship. Gloria is a vivid and intimate portrayal of a privileged yet claustrophobic world, where conflicting expectations for women foreshadow an impending revolution. Gloria Cotter, in her last summer at home before setting out for the larger world, must find her way into an unimaginable future.
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It was well past the time when anyone should feel the least bit embarrassed by asking for another drink. The worst of the day, in fact, was nearly overthat tedious span of muggy afternoon when one deeply regrets the second helping of Crab Louis and the second (or was it the third?) Scotch, while the sunfat and yellow and simple as a kid's drawingblazes away in an impossibly blue sky complete with the corniest of cotton batting clouds, and one must, somehow, maintain the pretense that one is having a hell of a good time on one's day off.
A faint breeze had sprung up; now it stirred the drapes in the open window of the guest room upstairs; through that window one could see the pool and the patio and much of the gently sloping land beyond as it led to the row of apple trees marking the distant edge of the property line. The untended woods behind the apple trees were already being absorbed by night; the childish disk of the sun was settling into the highest of the branches where it created the illusion that the treetops were burning upfuriously but silently. And, across the vast expanse of exquisitely clipped lawn (in the hard, oblique light, it appeared to have a perfect nap, like quality velvet) were creeping the long, inky shadows that signaled the steady advance of evening. Soonbut, thank God, not too soonit would be time to dress for dinner.
The only sound was the steady splash of someone swimming. Ted Cotter and his wife Laneythe nickname still persisted from her Vassar dayswere stretched out side by side on reclining chairsby the pool, his eyes covered with green sunglasses, hers with a yellow plastic gadget shaped like two picnic spoons, their handles joining over the bridge of her nose. Neither had moved for some time.
Both Ted and Laney enjoyed hearing it said that they made a handsome couple; they'd heard it often and had come to expect it. No one meeting Laney for the first time ever believed she was in her forties; she had the sleek, fine-boned figure that is usually called "thoroughbred." Ted had the look of a successful middle-aged man who keeps himself fit; the gray sprinkled liberally through his thick hair was the perfect touch for a man who liked to think of himself as mature and resourceful and steady under firea man who would naturally take command in any disaster. Ted and Laney did, indeed, make a handsome couple, and if, during their twenty-two years of marriage, neither had been seriously unfaithful to the other, it had not been for lack of opportunity.
Reclining in a third chair, set off some ten feet to the side of the others, was Billy Dougherty, Ted's old executive officer from his last command in the war, now Ted's employee. Billy appeared to be built entirely out of slabs of thickly bunched muscle, and he looked more like a roughneck steel worker than what he was, the general superintendent of the "Old Reliable" Indian Works in Millwood. Though only a year younger than Ted, Billy had never lost something of the perpetual boymaybe it was his winsome, lopsided grin or his habit of rubbing the back of his neck and looking off to one side as though he were about to say, "Aw, shucks, ma'am," in a Jimmy Stewart voiceand he had always been successful with the sort of woman who mistakenly thinks she can make something of him.
Billy sat up and yawned and lit a cigarette; he leaned forward to get a better view of Gloria Cotter swimming laps in the pool. She had passed on the Crab Louis, had eaten instead half a grapefruit, two rye crackers, and a cube of Swiss cheese; she had not been offered a gin and tonic, and, if she had, would have refused; she thought that adults (or, as she caught herself still referring to them despite the fact that she had recently turned twenty-one, "grown-ups") drank too much.
This was the first day since Gloria had come home when she hadn't awakened feeling utterly miserable. Her boyfriendshe presumed she no longer had the right to call him her fiancé although things had been left in such an inconclusive state she wasn't sure even of thatbut at any rate, Rolland Spicer, the boy she'd been planning to marry, had, the week before, driven her home from Briarville, Pennsylvania, to Raysburg, West Virginia, in what must have been record time. He'd said hardly a word to her and hadn't stopped once, not even for a cheeseburger. After he'd dumped Gloria and her five pieces of baby-blue luggage on her front porch, he'd muttered, "Well, Glo, see you around some time," and had driven away without so much as a goodbye kiss. "What was that all about?" her mother had asked, and Gloria had answered, "Oh, nothing, Mom. Just a little difference of opinion." Leaving her things for the brats to carry in, Gloria had walked past her mother, closed herself in her bedroom, thrown herself on the bed, and had lain there for an hour waiting for the tears to start, but she hadn't cried. She'd just been depressed out of her mind, and she'd stayed depressed out of her mind for days. Her timing, she had to admit, had been atrocious. Why had she been so stupid as to tell him after a weddingespecially a wedding as lovely as Susie's? But she hadn't said, "I won't marry you." She'd only said, "I won't marry you yet."
That morning in church she'd felt a shift inside herself; instead of thinking, as she had been, "What on earth am I supposed to do from now until September?" she'd thought, "Wow, I've got the whole rest of the summer and I can do anything I want," and she'd finally allowed herself to feel pleasedwith her Phi Beta Kappa key, with her straight-A average and her honors BA, with having been a darn good president of her chapter of Delta Lambda, and even with having been May Queen. In the fall she would be going to Columbia to begin her graduate work, but, in the meantime, there were no more classes, no more deadlines, no more exams, no more house meetings or Panhellenic Council meetings, no more planning sessions for Susie's wedding, no more rituals or ceremonies or parades or dances or smokers or partiesno more anything. There were some dozen books she'd planned to read, and she looked forward to reading them, but not quite yet. And if Rolland was going to go on being so mean to her, well, there would be lots of boys in New York, and so, fully conscious that she'd been killing timesavoring every lovely, useless, wasted moment of itshe'd just spent the afternoon painting her toenails and fingernails to match the red piping on her black maillot; the piping was, in turn, an exact match for the broad red stripe on her black bathing cap.
Ted Cotter opened his eyes behind his sunglasses and saw his daughter arrive at the wall, bob up in an incandescent spray transmuted to gold by the low sun, turn, kick off, and glide. He did not think of her as athletic, but he had to admit she made a hell of a pretty picture in the water. In the summer, Gloria's naturally dark skin deepened nearly to the color of mahogany; now, wet and gleaming in the golden light, she looked burnished, and her figure was every bit as good as her mother's had been in her twentiesmaybe even a little bit better with her long, Betty Grable legs and tiny waist. Gloria swam with a tidy, fastidious stroke he saw as typical of the way she did everything; her brothers, intent on speed, thrashed through the water like outboard motors, but she swam carefully, held each hand carefully, pointed like a dart, her gleaming red fingernails leading the hand, the angled hand slicing neatly into the water with no splash whatsoever. Laney, when she was mad at Gloria, liked to call her "Princess Priss," and it was apt, he supposed, but he rather liked his daughter's prissiness (there were a hell of a lot worse things your daughter could be). He had no worries about Gloria. She was sure to marry well.
Then Ted saw that Billy was hunched forward, his muscles tense, his elbows on his knees, his cigarette hanging forgotten in one slack hand, as he stared at Gloria. His head turned to follow her. If Ted were to guess what his old exec was thinking, he was pretty sure he'd hit it bang on the money, and he didn't like it one damn bit.
Billy and his dumb, little round-heels of a wife, Dottie, after a couple years of spectacular split-ups and melodramatic reconciliations, had finally gotten themselves divorced, and Billy was one of those guysTed supposed he would be much the samewho went crazy as jack rabbits the minute they didn't have a woman around. Billy had moved out of the house just after Christmas and pitched camp in a little bachelor apartment in Meadowland; he was still living out of his suitcase and eating all his meals at the club or at other people's tables. Billy had dropped in right after they'd got back front church "just to say hi," but he was still there, just as they'd known he would be from the moment they'd heard his silver Porsche come purring up the driveway.
"Another hot one," Ted said to let Billy know he was watching him.
"Yep, a real scorcher," Billy replied with an embarrassed laugh.
We're going to have to get the poor son-of-a-bitch laid, Ted thought, or he's going to start humping chair legs. But, in the meantime, if he keeps on looking at my daughter like that, I'm going to knock his ass straight into the swimming pool.
The men's voices woke Laney. "Oh, dear," she said, removed the sun shield and sat up. She wasn't sure how long she'd been asleep, but she'd dropped off listening to her daughter's steady churning in the water, and she still heard it. "What's she trying to prove?" she asked and immediately wished she hadn't said it.
There was nothing to hear but Gloria going splash, splash, splash; it was too damn quiet. Then Laney remembered that the boys had been dispatched to summer camp early that morning. From where she sat, Laney could see, strewn across the lawn, an archery butt, two bows, several dozen arrows, a collapsed badminton net, shuttlecocks and rackets, an astonishingly large number of comic books, a pair of jeans, a pair of white bucks, a scattering of pop bottles, a partially eaten sandwich (oh God, that had to be from yesterday!), an infinity of balls, and James' navy blue blazerthe little creepwadded into a sodden lump. She'd been longing for the boys to leave, but they hadn't been gone a day and she already missed them. In the meantime, why the devil hadn't Mrs. Warsinski picked up after them? Laney wished things were as they had been in her childhood, when you didn't have a housekeeper, you had servants, and if they didn't do what you wanted, you fired them (or, if it hadn't been exactly like that, that's the way Laney thought it should have been).
She felt Ted's hand on her arm, saw that he had lit her a cigarette along with his owna gesture that went all the way back to their courtship. She was so grateful for that small but unmistakable token it made her eyes sting. It isn't fair, she thought and felt like a petulant childfor the "it" that wasn't fair was life. She was forty-three. And there was her damned daughter, reminding Laney with every lap that she was young and Laney was not.
Gloria, however, was not feeling particularly young at the moment; she was not swimming very fast, but it was all she could do to maintain her pace. She had bet herself that she could still make forty laps, but it had stopped being fun, and now only her pride kept her goingand the knowledge that she was being watched. "What should I say?" she chanted in her mind, "since faith is dead," timing the words to her flutter kick, "and truth awayfrom you is fled" She was at the wall; she bobbed up and clung to it a moment, her arms aching, and heard her mother's bitchiest voice: "For heaven's sake, Gloria, enough is enough."
Angry, Gloria turned and kicked off. "Can ye say naybut that you said" She got stuck on "but that you said." Said what? She couldn't rememberwhich was ridiculous, because, if she knew anything, she knew that poem, right down to Wyatt's sixteenth-century spelling. Stroking hard, she jumped ahead to what she did remember and used it to pick up her tempo: "And thus betrayedere that I wist" Triumphant at the end of her forty, she slammed into the wall"Farewell, unkissed!"and she felt a small but exquisite epiphany because she knew now why that particular poem had appeared in her mind.
She heard her father and Mr. Dougherty applaud. She clambered out of the pooltoo quickly, so it seemed, for the world went wobbly beneath her. She steadied herself on the ladder, closed her eyes.
Dancing, fiery swirls of sun blazed in her field of vision, turned themselves green as emeralds against a throbbing red blur. She felt the hot roughness of cement under her feet, smelled chlorine and suntan lotion and new-mown grass and the nasty, rubbery pungency of her bathing capand felt that she had been plunged into the very essence of summer: sensations and emotions blending in her like a complex symphony. Summer! Out of school, home again, and boreda summer just as though she were back in high schoolfor it went with the promise of more and more and yet more time to waste.
She felt the world firm itself up. Still savoring her inner statecarrying it, she thought, like a diamond hidden in her mouthGloria opened her eyes, saw her mother and father and Mr. Dougherty watching her. Feigning total nonchalance, she walked to her lawn chair and picked up her towel.
"Good going, princess," her father said. Her mother said nothing but gave her a darkly inscrutable look. What, Gloria asked herself, is wrong with her?
"Gee, skipper," Mr. Dougherty said to her father, "I didn't know you had an Esther Williams in the family."
"Yeah, they're all good swimmers," Gloria's father replied and immediately launched into the oft-told tale of Gloria's brothers, both of whom held Ohio Valley age-group recordsBobby in the individual medley and Jimmy in the freestyle sprints. Surely Mr. Dougherty must have heard all of this before, and the brats were not at home to hear their praises being sung, and Gloria could have used a bit of praise herself, but it was obvious that she had received all she was going to get. As a girl, Gloria had not been expected to be a competitive swimmer, and so she had not been. Sic transit gloria Gloriae, she thoughtnot for the first time.
She pulled off her bathing cap, began to towel her hair, and caught Mr. Dougherty staring at her, his eyes fixed on the point where her bathing suit met the top of her thighs. He did not look away but gave her an ingenuous grin. Gloria averted her eyes, but she remained acutely conscious of him. He had a pot belly but was obviously strong as a bull; there was an anchor tattooed over his left biceps and his jaws were smeared with a five-o'clock shadow dense as Vice President Nixon's; he was covered from top to toe with curly black haireven hair between his shoulder blades. Men, Gloria thought, should not be allowed to get that hairy; it was repellantand fascinating in a sickly kind of way. When she'd first met him, he'd told her to call him Uncle Billy, but Gloria, who had been fourteen at the time, was not about to call any man who had suddenly appeared out of nowhere Uncle anything.
She lay back in the lawn chair and closed her eyes so she wouldn't have to see him. "Billy?" she heard her father say in what she thought of as his Lieutenant Commander's voice, "you want to do the honors?"
"Sure, skipper. Same again?"
"Make that two," her mother said, "you sweet man. Oh, Gloria?"
Gloria opened her eyes. "Could you please clear away your grandmother's tray and see if she needs anything?" Her mother was giving Gloria a get-lost look.
Allowing herself a deeply expressive sigh (she'd learned it from her mother), Gloria sprang to her feet and walked into the house in an abrupt, stiff-backed manner designed to let her mother know just how annoyed she was (she'd learned that from her mother too).
When Gloria had returned home, she had not been pleased to discover that her grandmotherher mother's mother, the Mrs. Alfred Merrimanhad been moved to Raysburg and established in the guest room. During the four years her father had been away in the war, Gloria and her mother had lived in her grandmother's house in Providence, but even so, Gloria hardly knew her. Her grandmother's rooms had been off limits, and Gloria had only seen her briefly, every few weeks, by appointment onlylike visiting a queen. Then she'd been outfitted in her daintiest dress and party shoes, lectured on good manners, promised an ice cream cone if she was good, and led into the presence of a frightening old lady who (Gloria had known it instantly and instinctively) did not like children. Now Gloria thought of her grandmother not as a person but as a stereotypethe aging society matron in an old movie, the one who is supposed to chaperone the irrepressible young heroine.
Gloria bounded upstairs to her grandmother's room and hesitatedher childhood distaste still with herbefore stepping into it. "Excuse me, Grandmother," she said, "can I get your tray?"
"Yes, you certainly can, my dear. Come in."
The old lady was sitting bolt upright in her chair directly in front of the window, her back toward the door; the last of the afternoon sunlight poured around her, and she seemed disembodied inside a haze of brilliance. Gloria tiptoed across the rug and came to rest by the small mahogany table; it held the tray with the remains of her grandmother's dinner, three roses in a crystal vase, several magazinesGloria saw Vogue and Vanity Faira box of white bond stationery, a gold fountain pen, and two decks of cards. "You're an excellent swimmer, Gloria," her grandmother said.
"Thank you, Grandmother," Gloria replied automatically. The window provided a panoramic view of the pool and the lawn beyond. Mr. Dougherty and her parents were laughing about something; their adult voices sounded as distant and meaningless as the buzz of locusts.
"In my day, girls were never taught to swim," her grandmother said. "In the costumes we wore, we would have drowned if we'd tried itGloria, do you know how to mix a martini?"
"Yes, of course I do, Grandmother. Are you allowed to drink martinis, Grandmother?"
"At my age, I'm allowed to drink anything I damn well please, and I would appreciate it if you were to stop calling me 'Grandmother' with every breath. I appreciate good manners, but the constant repetition is growing somewhat tedious. A good martini, Gloria, has only a whisper of vermouth, is stirred, never shaken, and must be served cold as death. The pleasure of a good martini is one that will last long after many other pleasures have faded, and a good martini, Gloria, is what I would dearly love to see appear before me." Gloria dutifully rose to go. "And Gloria?" her grandmother called after her, "Don't bruise the gin!"
Gloria carried her grandmother's tray downstairs and into the kitchen where Mrs. Warsinski was cleaning up. Willing herself into invisibility, Gloria filled a mixing bowl with ice cubes, floated into the dining room, slipped a bottle of gin from the liquor cabinet, poured the bowl full, and added a capful of vermouth. She knew perfectly well that her grandmother was not supposed to drink, and she felt a tickle of gleeful naughtiness as though they were putting something over on the grown-ups. Passing silently back through the kitchen, she picked up a jar of olives and a martini glassthen, on impulse, a second glass. It was not her grandmother's fault, Gloria had just decided, that her childhood had been so routinely miserable.
Gloria deposited the bowl on the table in her grandmother's room so quickly that the gin almost sloshed out. She was, she had to admit, still afraid of her grandmother. "Good heavens," her grandmother said with a faint smile. Intentionally playing a roleinviting her grandmother to laugh at her, and, therefore, like herGloria stirred the bowl gently with a teaspoon, filled the glasses and dropped an olive into each.
Gloria's grandmother sipped, frowned, considered, nodded. "Your methods may be unorthodox," she said, "but the results are excellent. Do you smoke, Gloria?"
"No, I do not smoke," Gloria replied in a voice that was dangerously close to being a parody of the old lady's.
"I am delighted to hear that. Smoking is a dirty and disgusting habit that has nothing whatsoever to recommend it. If you look in the top drawer of my dresser, you will find a silver box with a rosebud design on the lid."
Gloria passed over the box, and from it her grandmother extracted a Turkish cigarette; she fitted it to a long, green holder and ignited it with a tiny silver lighter. "Should you be smoking, Grandmother?" Gloria said.
"No, I should not. Nor should I be drinking martinis. Nor, for that matter, should I still be alive. Now tell me about yourself, Gloria."
Instead of replying, Gloria took a sip of her martini. She didn't know why she was drinking it; she hated martinis. It could not have tasted any worse, she thought, if she had filled her glass with her grandmother's lighter fluid. "That's what boys always ask," she said. "They seem to want a neat little summary in two or three sentences."
"You should prepare a speech thenbut not for me. You are a splendid-looking girl, my dear, but other than that, I hardly know anything about you."
Gloria looked directly into her grandmother's eyes; they were pale blue, and watery, but focused and intelligent; Gloria resisted the adjective "birdlike" as too easy, but it was apt. Over the past winter the old lady had suffered two heart attacks; if she had not, she would have still been in Providence, drinking all the martinis she wanted and playing bridge with other old society ladies. Now Gloria was struck by the obvious: her grandmother was probably lonely and afraid of dying and might genuinely be interested in something more than small talk.
"You know I'm going to Columbia next year," Gloria said.
"I understand you've always been a good student, my dear." Her grandmother's tone was dismissive, as though she wanted to move Gloria on toward a more provocative topicclothes or dances or boysand Gloria could easily enough have told her grandmother all about Rolland (she still was engaged to himwell, maybe she was), but she didn't feel like it.
"No, you don't understand, Grandmother," Gloria said and was alarmed to hear the sudden passion quivering in her voice. "Nobody understands, really. It isn't just being a good student. I love it!"
Reading Group Guide
Introduction"Let me know who I really am." For Gloria Cotter, this is a prayer. It's 1957 and Gloria knows who she is supposed to be -- the proper daughter of a wealthy West Virginia steel executive, sorority girl, prom queen, and recent graduate from college, ready to assume her next role, that of wife. But beneath the society girl veneer, Gloria longs for something else, though she's not sure what. All she knows is that ordinary girls are not supposed to be interested in sex without marriage. And they're especially not supposed to want to move to New York City and get a Ph.D. in English literature when they've got a rich, good-looking boyfriend eager to make them his wife. But now she's graduated from college and the world is waiting for her. A story set in John O'Hara territory, Gloria is a vivid portrayal of class and gender in an era when challenging assumptions seemed un-American. It is also about friendship, loyalty, sexuality, and love, and an unflinching look at the dynamics of family. But mostly, this is the story of Gloria and her last summer at home before setting out for the larger world. Discussion Questions
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Beautiful story! Stayed with me for years.
Way too long and drawn out. I may be too far removed from age 20, but these girls sounded SO juvenile. Didn't need graphic sex, then counterbalanced with all the religious standpoint of Susie. I had to finally skip chapter 15 of Gloria and Susie during Thanksgiving @ Susie's rustic homelife. Too much display of author's expertise in literature--hence the classroom and off campus rounds of analyzing lit. and authors. I had that in college and it was tedious for me, here. GLoria was beyond belief, even for 1950's, her lack of backbone letting herself get into serious situations which would lead to devastating consequences. So, aside from all the sex, intellectual discussions drawnout, and spinelessness, all the rest was a good story. I have not yet finished book, about 120 pages to go. We'll see!
. . . hated the ending. While it had a generally positive ending and I got the idea that Gloria had crossed a bridge and was ready to move forward with her dreams, I needed specifics. Did she get her PhD? Did she maintain her friendship with her college english professor? Did she meet a man who was strong enough and deep enough to love her? Did Susie ever find Tommy Jean? While the book didn't need to be any longer, an epilogue would have been great.
Gloria is my new favorite book. The story of Gloria Cotter, a 21 year old college graduate growing up in the 1950s, is incredibly realistic in its depiction of a girl who is trying to find herself amid conflicting attitudes from her family and society. Despite the differences in place and time, Gloria reminded me a lot of myself. I'm sure a lot of young women of today will be able to see their own personal struggles mirrored in Gloria's. Another aspect of this novel that I absolutely love is the fact that Gloria is a girl who thinks. She is not a stereotypical character; she is multi-faceted: she is intelligent (smarter than her classmates in a male dominated school), athletic, independent and a logical thinker. She relies heavily on her 'secret watcher', a voice in her head that she looks to for support and guidance. It sends a positive message of relying on yourself and trusting your instincts. Gloria is a deeply moving book that easily draws you into the life of Gloria Cotter. You will find yourself rooting for her while rethinking your own attitude toward life. A must read.
I loved this book and I can't wait to read it again. Maillard is a wonderfully descriptive and captivating author.
I've read this book twice, I liked it so much. The descriptions of the daily life of a country club girl of the 50's are fantastic. Her clothes, her school, her secret life -- I couldn't read about Gloria fast enough. I think everyone would relate to her feelings of trying to fit in, fearing everyone will see through you.
It's long and sometimes meandering, but this marvelous novel of a 50s woman coming of age is absolutely captivating. The male author manages to write from a young woman's pov and get it right. The supporting characters are equally intriguing and well rounded. Once hooked, you will not be able to put it down. The allusions to Wyatt and Spenser raise it above ordinary fiction, as does the writer's style. Absolutely delicious.
Gloria is a wonderful journey through the mind of an incredibly smart, talented and special 21-year old young lady. Everything about Gloria is special and thoughtful. Behind all her makeup and rich clothes she is just a lost little girl who wants to be accepted and loved. Her quest for life and her keen, observant mind are truly impressive!