Last spring I read Alix Kates Shulman’s Burning Questions, a superb novel about the rise of Second Wave feminism. Published in 1978, it is the best, most accurate historical novel I have read about the Women’s Liberation Movement. It is a feminist classic.
I recently picked up her 1987 novel, In Every Woman’s Life. (Both books are free with Kindle Unlimited.)
Is it as good? Well, it is much lighter, really a beach read, but I enjoyed it immensely. Shulman is a novelist of ideas: she examines subjects that concern women but were especially pertinent in the mid-to-late twentieth century. In this absorbing novel, she writes about women’s sexuality, marriage, and adultery.
In every woman’s life a time must come to think about marriage. Once, that time was brief, to be seized in the moment, or anxiously borne, or boldly flung away; but now it seems to descend like a recurring dream to vex or tempt the troubled dreamer with secret longings and second thoughts—such are the uncertainties of the times.
And the times are still uncertain, yes?
The two main characters are good friends who have antithetical attitudes toward sex and marriage. Rosemary, a mother of two, stays married for the sake of her children. She likes her husband, but is having a discreet, satisfying affair with a painter. She is also happy in her work: she teaches math as an adjunct. On the other hand, her friend Nora, a successful journalist, rages against marriage. She says Rosemary has wasted her time raising children, and should have devoted herself to work. Why is she so upset? Nora realizes that her married lover, Lex, will never leave his wife. She would like a relationship with an available man.
Parts of the book take the form of dialogues between Rosemary and Nora. Call me crazy, but if Socrates had been a woman… No, I’m kidding; it’s not that deep, but it is very interesting.
NORA: If you had your way, you’d condemn everyone to the bondage of the past. People should only be together because they want to be.
ROSEMARY: But if they happen to want to stay married for any reasons besides romance, you won’t allow it.
The book description claims the book is about three women. But look at the cover, hm? I only see two women! Rosemary’s daughter, Daisy, whom we first meet as a high school senior and later when she is contemplating marriage, plays only a small part in the novel. Just as much time is devoted to her brother, Spider.
What to read when you’ve finished Shulman? Well, I had an urge to reread Paula Fox, the much-praised author of adult novels, children’s novels, and memoirs. Her work has been acclaimed by Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Lethem, and Andrea Barrett.
Most of you will have read, or heard of, Desperate Characters, her masterpiece. I have read this several times, but have never had the moxie to write about it. (You can read an excellent article about it in The New Yorker.)
Apparently I weeded all of her books except Desperate Characters. Wouldn’t you know? And since I have promised not to buy books till fall, I cannot spend $3.48 for one of her books online.
I rolled my eyes when my husband recently found a book mailer in the trash, and demanded to know if I had bought a book. It was a gift from a friend. Really.
In every woman’s life a time must come to think about borrowing books from the public library. Alas, our library has weeded most of Fox’s books.
But first thing in September…