(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Good Mother is a fictional study of Anna Dunlap, a woman who has lived most of her life under the domination of someone else—first her mother, then her husband, Brian. When Anna divorces her husband and tries to build a new, more satisfactory life with her daughter, she achieves a certain brief happiness, but the price she pays is almost more than she can bear.

Anna is the first-person narrator of The Good Mother, which begins while Anna is in the process of divorcing Brian. The first chapter, one of fourteen, foreshadows the events of the entire book. On a retreat from the strain of her dissolving marriage, Anna rents a cottage in a small town in New Hampshire. As Anna and Molly attend a film, enjoy a café dinner, and get ready for bed, Miller’s superb, realistic style evokes a close and loving relationship.

Anna receives legal papers from Brian’s attorney that she must notarize and return the following day. Anna leaves Molly asleep in the car when she visits the filthy home of a reclusive notary in order to have the papers stamped. When she returns after her nightmarish experience, she finds that Molly has opened the car door to look for her and has been attacked by one of the cats that roam the property; Molly has been screaming in fright for some time. Comforting the child, Anna feels that she is not strong enough, not good enough, to rear her alone. Again and again in the novel, Anna creates a private Eden that is shattered when the larger world intrudes.

Anna’s early life is told in flashbacks of her mother’s family, a handsome, high-strung group of five siblings dominated by Anna’s grandfather, Frank McCord. He held Bunny and his other children to an unspoken standard of achievement and bound them with his approval or disapproval.

Anna was expected to have a...

(The entire section is 756 words.)