Study Guide

A Dangerous Woman

by Mary Jane McGarry

A Dangerous Woman Essay - Critical Essays

A Dangerous Woman

A DANGEROUS WOMAN is the story of Martha Horgan and the people around her in a small town in New York. Martha has never been able to interact with social success. Painfully withdrawn and myopic, she stares at others, hoping to learn how to act like them. Molested by a group of boys when she is seventeen, she is blamed by the townspeople; after all, they say, Martha is retarded and abnormal.

Now thirty-two, Martha is fired from her job. She mistakenly believes that she has been fired as a result of a theft which she saw another employee, Getso, commit. She expresses her grievances so loudly and so obsessively that no one can believe her or endure her rage. In particular she fixates on Birdy, an employee who had treated her decently and who is now dating Getso. Martha phones, writes, and follows Birdy to warn her against Getso.

Martha’s only relative is her aunt, Frances Beecham. Like others in the town, she assumes the worst of Martha. Frances hires a young handyman, Colin “Mack” Mackey, and constantly warns Martha away from him. One night Mack, drunk, takes advantage of Martha’s obsession with him. Insisting that she tell no one, he begins an affair with Frances.

Martha’s limitations and the hostile judgments of the townspeople combine with a series of unfortunate coincidences to put her into situations she cannot deal with in any acceptable way. She lashes out, murdering Getso. Pregnant, refusing to identify the father, encouraged to lie about the murder, Martha finally believes that the truth does not matter. The novel is filled with betrayals, despair, and unlikable people. Perhaps worst of all is the insistent assumption that the Martha Horgans of the world cannot be helped.

Sources for Further Study

The Antioch Review. XLIX, Spring, 1991, p. 308.

Chicago Tribune. January 27, 1991, XIV, p. 5.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. January 20, 1991, p. 3.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVI, January 13, 1991, p. 9.

The New Yorker. LXVI, February 11, 1991, p. 95.

Newsweek. CXVII, April 8, 1991, p. 61.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVII, October 5, 1990, p. 91.

Time. CXXXVII, January 28, 1991, p. 89.

The Times Literary Supplement. June 14, 1991, p. 26.

Women’s Review of Books. VIII, April, 1991, p. 7.