“Roses, Rhododendron” by Alice Adams


This touching short story was #50 in my 2013 Short Story Reading Project. It was first published in The New Yorker magazine in 1975. I own it as part of the epic collection “The Best Short Stories of the Century” edited by John Updike.


It is narrated by “Jane,” one of the characters, and related mostly in the form of remembrances. I was immediately intrigued by one of Adams’ opening philosophical salvos:

“Perhaps too little attention is paid to the necessary preconditions of “falling in love” – I mean the state of mind or place that precedes one’s first sight of the loved person (or house or land). In my own case, I remember the dark Boston afternoons as a precondition for love. Later on, for another important time, I recognized boredom in a job. And once the fear of growing old.”

Jane and her friend Harriet, though nearly opposites, personality-wise, were thick as thieves growing up, and Jane has many fond memories of Harriet’s house, family and property which she was “in love” with. Similar to what becomes of many close childhood friendships, they end up drifting apart. As an adult, Jane thinks many times of writing Harriet, who has become a frequently published poet. She finally does, in care of a magazine that recently printed some of her work, and receives no immediate response (it doesn’t occur to Jane that “an inadequately staffed magazine could be at fault”). When she finally does receive a response, though, it is well worth the wait. Harriet talks of her parents, who have both – as Jane already knew – died since she and Jane last saw each other. She mentions too that during the difficult period when her parents were dying, the picture that moved her (Harriet) most was not of her parents, but one of her and Jane on their bikes “...on the top of the hill outside the house. Going somewhere.”

She goes on to say of her parents:

But they were so extremely fond of you – in fact, you were a rare area of agreement. They missed you, and they talked about you for years. It’s a wonder that I wasn’t jealous, and I think I wasn’t only because I felt included in their affection for you. They liked me best with you.”

I also loved the finale:

Jane says: “An amazing letter, I thought. It was enough to make me take a long look at my whole life, and to find some new colors there.” I showed Harriet’s letter to my husband and he said, “How odd. She sounds just like you.”

Yes, a powerful letter to be sure. Have you read anything by Alice Adams? I believe this is my first experience with her, unless I’ve read a stray, anthologized story somewhere. I’m not easily moved by reading a story, but this one quite nearly pulled it off. 🙂

(Below: author Alice Adams)



  1. Hanne on Cloud 9 said,

    December 15, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    Sounds really good! I’ll have to check it out!


    • Jay said,

      December 16, 2013 at 8:43 am

      Thanks for the comment, HoC9. I hope you do.


  2. Brian Joseph said,

    December 16, 2013 at 7:36 am

    This sounds like a very moving story. Lately I have been talking with some very old friends, some that I have not seen in awhile and so I think that there is a lot to relate to here.


    • Jay said,

      December 16, 2013 at 8:45 am

      It really was. I, too, have recently had a few “reconnectings” with old friends (social media has increased these opportunities, I’m sure). Is there a better day brightener than reconnecting with a good old friend?


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