ON KEEPING WOMEN by Hortense Calisher


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In a swarming of images, bright diversions, and symbolism which seems to flip belly-up before your eyes, Calisher again stirs toward coherence but lands mostly among impressive isles of total chaos. Lexie, from teenager to matron, begins and ends the story on the two banks of the Hudson. In a 4:00 a.m. N.Y, harbor pier-side wrangle with her parents, Lexie begins her "voyage to the interior" by reaching out to the "city" she'd heard about from her father--her own erogenous zone. The penetration of her "empty space," as she looks for her own "special language," proceeds 30 miles up the Hudson River, where she lives--as wife, mother, and lover--in a Victorian mansion. After years of young children ("love buttered") and fabled neighbors' enchanted nights (a swimming pool "bobbing with pale-gold oval faces"), Lexie takes a trip that stops just short of the bridge to that city (O-ho) and finally finds the perfect meld of dominance and submission in sex. The close is a serio/comic vision, with the suburban matron and her estranged husband nude on the grass, viewed by their grown children who are plotting escape from the family tower--after an attempted suicide by one and hints of incest. Now Lexie, presumably having settled the matter of what is solely female and what is personal ("In her relationships with men. . . have they been with herself?") rears up like "a dinosaur on the edge of extinction" and yells out: "Ah! I give birth to them. The women. Him. All Awareness. . . ." For the reader who goes the distance on this slow, muddy, but tantalizing track--Distance is the key. Back off and you'll spy the themes and counter-themes, you'll hear the horns of serf-land gently blowing on the Hudson. Ahhhhhh! or Arghhhhh!, depending on your stamina, and Calisher experience.a
Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1977
ISBN: 0425039366
Publisher: Arbor House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1977


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