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Broadening and deepening the speculations on personal destiny and societal straitjackets touched upon in Violet Clay (1978), Godwin now offers her best work yet: a striking triptych of three contemporary women-in-transit--whose lives "continue to bounce off one another, adding new evidence. . . ." Leonard Strickland--gentle, concerned with Truth--briefly reflects on his life choice of "dealing justly" with family and self rather than manning barricades for humanity at large. . . just before his fatal heart attack. So his widow Nell and his two daughters cluster warily, abrasively, after his death, before spinning apart to new, more stable, curiously renewing passages. Cate, still the family irritant though nearly 40, has yet to produce a pearl of "accomplishment": married and divorced twice, jolting erratically from job to job teaching English (once fired for leading little girls to block the Lincoln Tunnel in protest against the Cambodia bombing), she scorns Success yet would be "outstanding." (A legacy from scrupulous, retiring Leonard?) And Cate ponders these matters as she becomes the lover of Roger Jernigan, a raw, pragmatic pesticide "baron" who lives in a castle; eventually, however, fearing the warm soup of protective security, she'll refuse marriage and have an abortion: "Keep a space ready for what you want" even if you don't now know what it is. Meanwhile, in contrast, younger sister Lydia's life is one of tight compartments (or what Cate regards as a "table-model kingdom"). Mother of two boys, Lydia hones close to her "public image": she sheds nice husband Max because of her lack of "sufficient enthusiasm"; she acquires a degree in sociology, a gifted black woman friend, and a malleable lover; and she'll ultimately star in a local TV cooking show. As Lydia tells her boys: "There are things that life expects from you and things you have a right to expect. . . . Get yourself organized." And as for mother Nell, she's loyal and compassionate with the sad, silly, brave old friends of her circle--and she is gradually weaned back to self and the "mellow ecstasy" of simply "being nobody." Finally, then, the three women--steamrolling Cate, secretly vulnerable Lydia coiled to strike, Nell bolstering and resignedly coping--have a climactic go-round at the family beach cottage. . . which will be symbolically destroyed by an untended fire. With rich, full portraits, seamless philosophic musings, and loamy village humor--a major novel from a talented writer really hitting her stride.
Pub Date: Jan. 8th, 1981
ISBN: 0345389239
Page count: 548pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1981


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