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In There's a Dance in the Old Dame Yet (1982), octogenarian Robey offered sharp, lyrical, straining insights into the phenomenon of old age: coping with widowhood, grief, severe back pain, encroaching blindness, pent-up angers. Here, in short, intense chapters, she goes both further back and deeper--reviewing her troubled/happy marriage. . . and her lifelong wrestles with buried childhood-memories, with a double family-heritage of repressed sexuality. Wedding Day 1923, a Boston upper-middle-class affair, is frilly, prim bliss--till Harriet finds herself winking at the minister, ""a God-awful wink without rhyme or reason!"" Why did she wink? And why does big, strong, manly husband Alec sob on their honeymoon night? ""And why, oh why, on my wedding eve, did Mother so lovingly, solemnly, and tenderly shave off all my pubic hair with Father's long, fiat, sharp straight razor?"" The first decades of the marriage, then, are fraught with incompatability, tension, family ties: Alec's imperiously domineering, possessive mother, source of his hidden rage; Harriet's restlessness, her stifled fears and angers--with some memories exorcised in psychoanalysis (a molesting uncle), others still festering till old age (a childhood rape). But, as the older generation loosens its hold, Alec and Harriet permit ""each other the space between our togetherness""; Harriet, after the kids are grown, has a career in psychiatric social work; they even learn to enjoy the ""niggling and edgy"" years of his retirement. And, after Alec's death, Harriet mourns, copes with illness, and starts to write--working out some of those still-unresolved conflicts in imaginary conversations with the Mona Lisa, a maternal/knowing woman who ""has forgiven herself,"" who accepts female sexuality and the pitfalls of the man/woman relationship. Occasionally a bit too feverish, and fragmented as a psychosexual case-history--but vivid and disturbing in the emotionally charged vignettes of Boston manners (and the simmerings beneath), ultimately affirmative in the portrait of hard-won marital survival and growth.

Pub Date: Oct. 22nd, 1984
Publisher: Little, Brown