Scarlett and Mel are life-long friends. They met as high-schoolers, and have decisive memories of visiting each other’s houses. Then they lost touch with one another, as you do, only to pick up the threads of their friendship as adults, when Mel receives her diagnosis of breast cancer and leaves her husband, returning to the Sacramento where she’d grown up and to a former relationship.
The two women are polar opposites. Mel is timid, deferent to authority, and very much the traditional submissive woman in her relationships with men who dominate her and seem to lack respect for who she is as a woman. A brilliant scholar, she allows her doctoral studies and innate talent as an actress to be subsumed in caring for her husband’s career. Scarlet is the opposite; out-spoken, even abrasive, and free-sprited. A columnist, she moves round the world as her fancy takes her.
Fascinatingly, we see the two women through the eyes of the other, although we are primarily look through Scarlet at Mel. Mel frustrates Scarlet, who can’t understand her. Mel seems on the one hand to have breathtakingly clear vision, to accurate sum up the men in her life and their foibles. Yet in the face of those men, she shuts down, defers, silences herself. It drives Scarlet crazy. But protesting to Mel does no good, and in fact does harm to the openness of their relationship. And so we ponder, along with Scarlet, the nature of friendship. Is it, after all, merely to bear witness? Or do we unwittingly shape those around us?
The Outlook for Earthlings is gorgeously written, a paean to female friendships, and the story of a life. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and in fact refused to rush through it to meet a review deadline because I wanted to savor it. It’s worth reading and rereading. Highly recommended
About Joan Frank
Joan Frank is the author of ten books: eight of literary fiction and two essay collections. Her recent books are WHERE YOU’RE ALL GOING: FOUR NOVELLAS and TRY TO GET LOST: ESSAYS ON TRAVEL AND PLACE. A MacDowell Fellow and recipient of many honors and awards, Joan also reviews literary fiction and nonfiction for the Washington Post.
Find out more about Joan at her website.