PAY THE PIPER by Joan Williams


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Here, Williams (Pariah; Country Woman, etc.) gives a penetrating and realistic treatment of what might have been: a threadbare subject: marriage, remarriage, divorce, and the sorrowfully single woman. Novelist Laurel Wynn leaves her suburban drip of a husband to marry a rich southerner, Hal, who's just finished serving time for the supposedly accidental murder of his stepson. The doomed marriage is based on castles in the air--passionate letters and short visits the couple have shared during Hal's incarceration, which reveal nothing of the violent he-devil that he'll become on his release. A sensitive and intelligent woman, the twice-divorced Laurel can't seem to balance her passion for independence with her need for love; the best explanation she can muster for her failed marriages is that as the child of an alcoholic she's damned to victimize herself. But toward the end, when experience, solitude, and Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings help her see her life objectively, she begins to find herself; Laurel emerges as a brave and vulnerable woman who realizes the pathetic absurdity of attending a singles group at age 53, yet refuses to become the passive misanthrope her mother is. She's willing to hit bottom in order to give her life definition, and her recovery allows for a hopeful yet unsentimental ending. In frank and vivid prose, Williams has created a fresh yet archetypal character--a middle-aged woman flexing her muscles in the name of autonomy, all the while tripping up on the constraints of traditional marriage and motherhood.

Pub Date: May 16th, 1988
Publisher: Dutton