THE OBEDIENT WIFE by Julia O'Faolain
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From a 6th-century Frankish convent, in her splendid Women in the Wall (1975), to marital and amorous messes in contemporary Los Angeles mudslide country, seems a quantum leap, but O'Faolain continues to hound human folly, a particular occupational hazard, she feels, of the religious seeker who tends to sanctify life at the expense of its gritty realities, essential intimacies and very humanness. Here, a not-too-happily married woman, immersed in a popping mess of familial and neighborhood tragicomic dramas, is courted by a handsome, curiously pure-hearted Catholic priest. Thirty-six year-old Carla Verdi, mother of young teen Maurizio, is left in ""America's Playland"" by husband Marco, who writes blustery tirades from back home in Italy complaining that Carla has not grown in their 15 years of marriage--perhaps, he suggests, she should have an affair. Carla ignores this irritating imperative as she copes with Life in L.A. Friend Sybil is in love with priest Leo--a passion embroidered with some hilarious laic dialectic--and unconsummated. Go ahead and have sex, is Carla's advice: ""Religion. . .seems to stop people from seeing the obvious."" Then Maurizio, aboil in adolescent turmoil, becomes involved in a complex series of spying incidents and poison-pen letters--all on behalf of Evie, an abused Okie waif, offspring of slovenly Wanda and a murderous itinerant laborer. Maurizio's prime target is a womanizing, drug-pushing Pole (whom Carla rather enjoys). Priest Leo arrives at Carla's home (which Carla had offered Sybil for a seduction setting) during a neighbor's mudslide emergency, and before long Leo will announce his passion--for Carla. Before Carla settles down to serious pondering, though, there'll be--before and after Marco's return--a series of blistering confrontations (shouts, punches, a drawn weapon), moments of mindless pleasures, and, with a final catastrophe (a fire), a sobering end to playland dreaming. As for the lovers: Carla will choose between the ""wounding"" intimacy of marriage and parenting, and life with a good man forever levitating on sanctifying myth. With elegantly fine satiric touches and a compassionate rueful wisdom, a full-bodied tribute to the power and enemic vulnerabilities of our human nature.

Pub Date: Nov. 10th, 1985
Publisher: Carroll & Graf