This posthumous novel of quiet desperation in the Los Angeles suburbs from much-honored Wolff (1918–2002), which might have come out of a time capsule, reportedly did come from the author’s refrigerator, where she stored it for 30 years rather than making the revisions her publisher requested.
The time is 1972. Wolff’s housewives talk of the Draft, of McLuhan, Mastroianni and Erich Segal, and of the declining fortunes of the aerospace industry, where three of their husbands work. Tom Fallon is a veteran designer plotting to sell his company and divorce his wife as soon as he can announce a fat NASA contract. His competitor, Jim Holman, is about to pull off an engineering coup he thinks will win him both the contract and the leadership of his corporation. Dave Friedman is off somewhere toiling for the military-industrial complex as well while the real action unfolds behind their backs. Beginning with flower child Killian Fallon’s divorce suit against Tom and Nedith’s son Pete, Wolff (Whistle Stop, 1941, etc.) takes a vivisectionist’s delight in laying bare every secret of these suburban families. Since the secrets are overwhelmingly domestic, Wolff focuses on the unhappy lives of Cynny Holman, Nancy Friedman, Nedith Fallon and Killian, the daughter-in-law she loathes. Occasional dramatic incidents are supplied by men who offer sexual temptation and invitations to talk and by the outrageously metaphorical weekend weather: a sudden rainstorm, the Santa Ana winds, a forest fire that rages out of control. But the main device for advancing the plot and revealing the characters is a series of tour-de-force arguments whose principals flash, sparkle, despair and forgive in their touchingly herky-jerky attempts to come to terms with their diminished expectations of life in general and their marriages in particular.
A virtuoso drama of suburban angst to put alongside Peyton Place, Couples and The Ice Storm, fueled by dialogue worthy of Flannery O’Connor.