Philippa by Jane Eklund Ball. Houghton Mifflin (1955), 305 pp.
The Mace family is holding a sort of decommissioning party for its house in Los Angeles. The owner, Mary (“Gran Mary”), is selling the building. The other residents, son Steven, daughter-in-law Ruth, and their three children, are moving to the San Fernando Valley. Coming for a final visit to their childhood home are Mary’s three daughters. Millicent, a widow in her mid-thirties, and Julia with former ex-husband Richard in tow, have already arrived. Philippa has yet to show up, though her husband, Will, has been helping with preparations for hours. One guest surprises Mary. He’s John Douglas, Steven’s best friend and Philippa’s former lover. She worries that he might upset the festivities somehow.
No one can doubt that Ball has written a serious novel. Her characters are embroiled in questions of commitment to their loved ones (using the term advisedly): How much independence should be sacrificed to make a relationship work? When is it time to give up on it and move on to something new? The characters cope with these concerns in different ways. The author provides no answers of her own. Unfortunately, she doesn't quite bring the story to life. Her characters just walk around the house and yard, thinking of other characters with disparagement. Conflict remains hidden. The author sometimes enlivens the story with flashbacks -- Millicent reliving the lingering death of her husband, for example, or Juliet remembering her six weeks in Reno -- but she’s mostly content to spend time on descriptions of shrubbery and table settings. Everything moves very slowly. Readers may end up appreciating what Ball is trying to do but wishing she had worked harder to hold their attention.