Cover image for Looking back
Looking back
Plain, Belva.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Delacorte Press, 2001.
Physical Description:
340 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


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On Order



Following the phenomenal success of Fortune's Hand, the bestselling author now goes to the heart of what it means to be a woman, wife, and friend, in this poignant and powerful new novel that shimmers with her storytelling genius.

Author Notes

Belva Plain lives in northern New Jersey. She is the author of the bestselling novels "Evergreen", "Random Winds", "Eden Burning", "Crescent City", "The Golden Cup", "Tapestry", "Blessings", "Harvest", "Treasures", "Whispers", "Daybreak", "The Carousel", "Promises", "Secrecy", "Homecoming", "Legacy of Silence", "Fortune's Hand", and "After the Fire".

(Publisher Provided) Belva Plain was born in New York City on October 9, 1915. She received a degree in history from Barnard College in 1939. Her first short story was published in Cosmopolitan when she was 25 years old, and she continued to write for the publication for years. Her first novel, Evergreen (1978), was on the New York Times bestseller list for 41 weeks and was made into a television miniseries. Her other works include Crescent City, Promises, Blessings, The Carousel, Daybreak, and After the Fire. She died on October 12, 2010 at the age of 95.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Cecile, Norma, and Amanda are the best of friends. After four idyllic years at college, they face graduation and their subsequent separation. Cecile is getting married, Norma is going to teach Latin, and Amanda faces the prospect of returning to the small town where she grew up. But when Norma invites Amanda to come visit her, Amanda sees a chance to escape her impoverished past. Norma's brother, Larry, is infatuated with Amanda, and when he proposes marriage, she has already made up her mind to accept, even though she's not in love with him. At first, Amanda is thrilled to have all of the things she never had growing up, but soon boredom and Larry's grating personality begin to irk her. Amanda gets a job at a posh store, and soon she is buying clothes, books, and dishes in mass quantities. Both Larry and Norma disapprove, causing tension between the three. Meanwhile, Cecile and her husband, Peter, are happily married, and Peter receives an architecture assignment that could launch his career. But when Amanda, miserable in her marriage, takes a step that is far more severe than mere overspending, all of the friends will be affected. Plain's many fans will enjoy this examination of how even the strongest friendships can be shaken and even shattered. --Kristine Huntley

Publisher's Weekly Review

What begins as an engaging story about three college roommates brainy Norma, lovely Amanda, preppy Cecile and their differing futures takes a bewildering turn in Plain's latest domestic saga. When the three women graduate, Amanda, desperate to escape her lower-class background, marries Larry Balsan, Norma's brother, who is in the family real estate business. As Mrs. Balsan, she can shop to her heart's content, but she soon realizes she is not as happy as Cecile, who marries her college sweetheart, or even Norma, who is biding her time until she meets Mr. Right. So far so good, but the plot is thrown off kilter when Amanda and her aloof, widower father-in-law inexplicably tumble into an affair. The awkwardness of such a union bleeds into the prose, and Plain is unable to make the twist work there is no satisfying tension or electricity between Amanda and L.B., as he is known, so their passionate affair rings false. Plain (Fortune's Hand, etc.) compounds the problems with her plot by turning the steadfast Norma into a conniving schemer who, out of misguided loyalty to her brother, undermines Cecile's husband. The flowing story line, neatly resolved problems and intriguing exploration of family relationships that readers have come to expect from Plain are absent here. (Apr. 10) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

College roommates and best friends Cecile, Norma, and Amanda call themselves the Three Musketeers. Upon graduation, though, they plan to go in different directions: Cecile to marry Peter, Norma to teach Latin, and Amanda to return to her hometown in Mississippi. Then Norma takes Amanda home to meet Larry, her brother, a real estate broker working for their father. Larry falls in love with Amanda, and she, seeing an escape from her poverty, agrees to marry him, thus setting into motion a disastrous series of events. Plain, author of numerous best sellers, including Evergreen, Eden Burning, and Fortune's Hand, disappoints this time with a contrived plot and distorted characterizations. Even Kate Forbes's clearly articulated reading fails to breathe life into these characters, whose behavior is so implausible. Though tape quality is excellent, this program is recommended only for comprehensive Plain collections. Nancy R. Ives, SUNY at Geneseo (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Books, purses, three empty bottles of Diet Coke, and the remains of a large pizza littered the card table that had been set up near the open window. Outdoors, green May was flourishing. Scented with lilac and wet grass, it was lively with walking traffic on the paths that crisscrossed the quadrangle from the Gothic library, to the glassy, modern science building, to the old redbrick museum, and beyond. "Commencement. It's more like a conclusion, a funeral." Startled, the two others turned toward Amanda. This doleful remark did not fit her. She was eager; her bright, blooming face in its frame of wavy, caramel-colored hair was always optimistic; she sparkled. Among these three young women, she was the one who would most attract attention. True, there were some who would prefer the calm, classic elegance of Cecile. It was she who now said more cheerfully, "It's the beginning of something else, Amanda." "For you, it is. You must be the only person in the graduating class who's getting married this summer." "I know. Isn't it ridiculous? I feel like my own grandmother. In her day, for Heaven's sake, you were expected to do just that. 'A ring by spring,' they used to say." Cecile's pink smile made fun of herself. "But we've waited four years for him to get through architecture in New York, and that's long enough. We haven't seen each other since February vacation, when I went east, and I can't wait." With a sigh of contentment, she added, "I'm sure if it weren't for all this, I would be terribly sad about leaving here." "Ave atque vale," Norma said. Amanda asked, "What's that?" " 'Hail and farewell.' It's Latin." "Why on earth anybody should want to fill her head with that dead stuff, and spend the rest of her life teaching it to people who'll never use it except to teach it to more people who'll never use it, I don't know!" "Surely not the rest of her life," Cecile protested. "Why not? I happen to enjoy it," Norma said. "Anyway, I'm the family oddball. Always was." Norma was plain, short of stature, and too broad of face. Yet, because that face with its keen roving eyes was so extraordinarily alert and intelligent, many a person, seeing her for the first time, had felt a kind of shock. "You are not an oddball," Amanda said firmly. "Oh, yes. Even my brother, who really loves me ? really, really does ? even he says I am because I'd rather read than eat. Anyhow, enough of me. Have you decided, Amanda? Are you staying up here or going back south for good?" "I don't know. I can't seem to make up my mind. One thing makes me mad, though. Nobody ever told me that a B.A. means almost nothing anymore, not my kind of a B.A., anyway. If I knew something definite, the way you know Latin, for instance, I could walk right into a teaching job, at least at a private school like yours where you don't absolutely have to have a degree in education. As it is, without graduate school, I don't see what there is for me." Amanda sighed. "So I might as well flip a coin. Spend the summer scorching here in the Missouri drought, or else cross the Mississippi and sweat in the soggy heat at home while I look for some kind of a job, though God knows what." Cecile reminded her, "No matter what you decide, you'll have to come back up here for my wedding. You've got to be a bridesmaid. I'm paying the airfare and buying the dress, so no argument about it." "Come stay for a couple of weeks with me," Norma urged. "I've a hunch that might help you solve your problem, if you know what I mean." "No, I don't know what you mean." Amanda had a way of discarding at will, or else retaining, her native accent. Now, widening her eyes with puzzled innocence, she recrossed the Mississippi. "What d'y'all mean?" Norma laughed. "You know perfectly well what. My brother Larry is more than a little bit crazy about you. He thinks you're absolutely beautiful." "Well, so she is," Cecile said stoutly. "Your brother Larry doesn't know a thing about me. I've been in your house only twice, for two weeks each time. What can you tell about a person in those few days?" "You can tell plenty," Cecile declared, still stoutly. "Why, Peter and I both knew after the first three days, right here on this campus. Peter Mack, the senior, and Cecile Newman, the freshman! It was all unheard of, and still we both knew, no matter what anybody said." Amanda studied her fingernails. Shell pink ovals with white tips in the French style, they were beautifully cared for by herself. She was thinking of Larry's latest letter that had come yesterday. By now, if she had saved all the letters, she would have more than a dozen of them, but she had not saved them. Thoughtful and quite correct, they were also far too frank and effusive. To be admired is one thing, but this was so sudden as to be absurd. And yet, here was Cecile with her tale of three days. Obviously Amanda was thinking, Cecile saw, so she changed the subject. "Weren't we going to have somebody take our picture downstairs in front of the house before we leave?" she asked. Norma said quickly, "Yes, but not today, and not a full-length picture. I need to press a long skirt first." Automatically the two friends glanced at, and as quickly away from, Norma's legs. Shapeless and thick, the ankles measured the same as the knees. Held together, they were almost as wide as somebody's small waist. These legs were the bane of Norma's existence, bane being poison; in a way, they had poisoned her life ? or she had allowed them to do so. In elementary school, the boys called me "piano legs," until Larry, my brother, was old enough to beat them up for doing it. "I have no time now, anyway," Amanda said. "Sundale's Coffee Shop awaits me," she mocked. "Will you be stopping at Sundale's later, either of you?" "You're sure we don't bother you when one of us comes in?" Cecile asked gently. "No, why should you? Come and admire me in my baby blue uniform." "All right. If I can get through some more of this packing, I will. But just look." The small space, cramped to start with, was jammed with possessions. Cecile's and Norma's rooms ? or cubicles ? were heaped with clothing and books, all seemingly flung at random on the beds. More books were stacked in boxes on the floor. Luggage waited to be filled; it was fine luggage, leather and tweed, Amanda saw, estimating its cost. "Oh, well, I'll save some eclairs for you," she said. "If you don't come, I'll bring them back and put them in the refrigerator." "Suddenly I feel so sorry for her," Cecile exclaimed when the door had closed. "She never seemed to be the kind of person you'd feel sorry for. In all the time we've known her, she never once complained about anything. Today is the first time." "She's been wearing a mask all the time, haven't you realized that?" Excerpted from Looking Back by Belva Plain All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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