Campus novel of what feminists forgot

Pretty Girls, by Garret Weyr. New York: Crown Publishers. 232 pp. $15.95. ``Pretty Girls'' is not a novel about fun-filled college days. Nor does it smooth the uncertainties of adulthood into happy endings. Garret Weyr has written a first novel about the insecurities and loneliness of young women in the '80s.

Alexandria, Penelope, and Caroline, are best friends in college. Their friendship is built on the differences they share - differences that set them off from the ``pretty girls'' on campus.

The three women are smart and supposedly tough as nails - unlike Susan, a character they despise for being a pretty girl. Susan knows how to keep quiet and how not to intellectually challenge her man.

The novel starts slowly, not challenging any expectation that this will be like any other story about college life written by a recent graduate. But the pace picks up once Weyr begins revealing the underside of the women's friendship and their relationships with men.

The independent spirit and individuality that drew the three women together as friends are pushing them to stand alone. Each faces the same reality: The aspect of her identity she most values is the one that intimidates men.

And men are important to all three. Whether it is Penelope's diplomat father, who has a ready wallet but a short attention span for his daughter, or Edward, the object of Caroline's and Alex's affections, who can't quite let himself fall in love with either one.

Experiences with rape, casual sex, and homosexuality leave the three characters more than brutalized. Each ends up thinking: If only I had been a different person this would have turned out differently.

Weyr slowly fits the pieces of her characters' lives together; they fall apart; and then she tries putting them together in a different pattern. None of the characters is merely two-dimensional. Each has a social side that deals with campus life, and a private side that is shown only to friends.

But each also thinks thoughts that seem to be out of character. And all make mistakes in judgment that seem to contradict their natural intelligence. They become real people, not just vehicles of a particular experience in life.

These characters are products of the feminist revolution. They grew up thinking they could do anything as long as they were smart enough. Now they find out they are wrong.

Weyr writes about the issue feminists forgot - the emotional side of equality between the sexes. Intellectual satisfaction does not replace the three women's need to find someone who not only accepts them as they are, but also loves them for it.

All three are tempted to adopt the ``pretty girl'' persona. Weyr's novel asks whether women are ready or willing to resist this temptation and stand as individuals.

Mary Jo Hill is on the Monitor staff.

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