October 26, 1987 12:00 PM

by Cheryl Merser

The title, subtitle (“A Generation in Search of Adulthood”) and cover of this book make it seem like pop psych self-help foolishness. It is, however, a thoughtful, catalytic combination of memoir and casual philosophy. Merser, 36, could be the poster person for a self-consciousness-raising campaign for the baby-boom generation. Since arriving in New York in 1973 just out of college, she has worked as a catalog copy writer, Random House publicity manager and author (Honorable Intentions: The Manners of Courtship in the ’80s was her previous book). Never married, she was just ending a long relationship with a man as she finished this book and is at an age when a decision about having children is imperative. Her thesis is that, like most middle-class members of her generation, she has faced an awful lot of choices, with few trustworthy standards to guide her. This book is her way of asking if she has finally become an adult—or if the question even makes any sense. Meanwhile she is also asking herself whether she is living up to the expectations of her all too self-aware generation: “Am I all I can be? Am I my own best friend? Am I happy?” It is no longer enough, she adds, “to be dutiful.” While contemplating such factors as post-World War II optimism, suburbanization, feminism and what happened between her and the boyfriend with the nice house in the country, she cites any number of authorities, from Kurt Vonnegut to Bob Dylan to Bertrand Russell. She in fact drags some of them in by their little toes, so intent on piling up credibility that in one paragraph she quotes books by three different authors. The book is far more thought provoking when she asks her questions in relation to her own life. At one point, for example, she discusses the painful dissolution of a friendship with a woman she had come to think of as a sister; elsewhere she reluctantly attends the wedding of a friend and comes to admit grudgingly that maybe marriage is a good thing after all. At such moments this book becomes the equivalent of a witty, articulate, honest friend whose concerns and point of view are familiar, whose curiosity and willingness to face herself are contagious. (Putnam, $17.95)

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