From Bialosky (House Under Snow, 2002, etc.), an introspective novel about a middle-aged woman’s dilemma of love and responsibility.
Eleanor Cahn, married mother of two, visits Paris to present her paper on Anna Karenina, a novel whose themes of passion and morality set the stage for Eleanor’s own story. Her relationship with her husband, a work-obsessed surgeon, is unfulfilling, and past lovers haunt her. As Eleanor turns inward for answers, the story line becomes increasingly convoluted, jumping back and forth in time. Flashbacks to Eleanor’s first love, William, a married lover, Adam, and an emotionally unavailable father mix in a dream-like narrative that tells far more than it shows. In Paris, Eleanor’s commiserating and flirting with colleagues is punctured by an encounter with Stephen, a rebellious former neighbor with whom she shares a history of unalleviated sexual tension. With so many relationships in the mix, fully developing all the men in Eleanor’s life—as well as Eleanor herself—becomes impossible. When Stephen reappears in New York, Eleanor’s angst increases exponentially as she struggles with her desire for him and the love and responsibility she feels for her family. Though the reader may try to connect with Eleanor, she is lost under a flood of impersonal existential questioning. To borrow a phrase from the novel, this is “all angst with no transformation.”
Fails to satisfy.