Two young women, Sally Rose of Los Angeles and Clare Mann of Ohio, are thrown together as freshman college roommates at Oberlin College. Sally, the daughter of a wealthy, doting father, is desperately homesick, while the story's narrator, Clare, who considers herself jaded and unshockable, is thrilled to be on her own. Both women overcome their mutual bafflement and form a tenacious, complicated bond, one that will be tested by distance, time, secrets, and the moral ambiguities of Sally's father, Sid.
In one way, this novel is a simple buddy story: two miss-matched people, Clare and Sally, meet, surprise themselves with friendship, and go through years of adventures together. But the novel's major tension comes from its love triangle.
There's a person who persistently comes between Clare and Sally—not a lover or friend of either woman, but Sally's father, Sid.
People seem to either love or hate this book. Sally and Clare are complex, driven, intelligent women quite capable of mistakes and remorse, anger and tenderness. Judging from comments I've seen, some readers find them to be selfish, miserable creatures. To me, they seem perfectly real.
Of note, Jill Herman is my best friend and a lawyer but she is not Sally Rose. I really do write fiction, and Jill and her family have been good sports (and for many years!) about any confusion between truth and reality.