Sue Kaufman’s novel provides an intimate portrait of “the problem that has no name,” feminist Betty Friedan’s term for the lack of fulfillment felt by some middle-class housewives. Through diary entries dating from September 22 to February 2, the reader comes to know Bettina Balser, a wife, mother, and homemaker. She lives in a luxurious apartment on New York’s Central Park West; her husband, Jonathan, is a wealthy lawyer who seems also to be a clever investor. Her two daughters attend the finest of private schools. A maid, Lottie, does the essential housework. Parties are catered. Why, then, does Bettina suddenly realize that her life verges on madness?
By the mid-1960’s, the women’s movement was active and growing. Kaufman’s novel struck a powerful note, explaining how the woman who seems to have everything might feel increasing oppression, frustration, desperation, and, finally, loss of personal identity. It also pointed out the problem of psychological spousal abuse, the mental pressures that a husband might exert on his wife. Jonathan makes it all too clear, as the diary reflects, that he is working to mold Bettina as the perfect wife, hostess, and mother. He earns the money and doles it out to her; he runs her life. At the end of the novel, Bettina frees a cockroach that “scuttles home to wifey and kiddies.”