Judith Rossner Essay - Critical Essays

Rossner, Judith (Perelman)


Judith (Perelman) Rossner 1935–

American novelist.

Rossner is best known for Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1975), a novel typical of Rossner's work in its contemporary setting, its interest in human motivations and conflicts, and its narration from a woman's viewpoint. The book was adapted for film in 1977.

Rossner's settings and themes depict various aspects of contemporary urban America. Any Minute Now I Can Split (1972) takes place in a commune, Goodbar concerns the world of singles bars, and much of August (1983) is set in a psychoanalyst's office. Her fiction examines such topical issues as the sexual revolution and the women's movement. This is true even of Emmeline (1980), an unusual Rossner work in that it is set in the nineteenth century. This novel echoes a concern of Rossner's that was especially prominent in Goodbar—that sexual passion often leads to disaster for women. Although Rossner's novels present a distinctly female consciousness, her heroines are passive and do not display the assertiveness of model feminists.

In most Rossner novels, the central character faces a conflict between opposing inner forces, and the structure of the novels echoes these dualities. In To the Precipice (1966), the protagonist attempts to choose between a man who satisfies her altruistic nature, on the one hand, and one who indulges her selfish needs, on the other. Theresa, in Goodbar, has two very distinct personalities. By day she is a loving schoolteacher; at night she frequents singles bars in search of sexual fulfillment. Attachments (1977), the story of the wives of Siamese twins, concerns the conflict between the need for individuality and the comfort and identity which comes from being "attached" to another person. Rossner's continuing concern with human psychology is made explicit in August, which gives a detailed account of one woman's psychoanalysis and the effect it has on the analyst.

(See also CLC, Vols. 6, 9; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-20, rev. ed.; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 6.)

Elizabeth Stone

Rossner's theme [in Emmeline], as in Looking for Mr. Goodbar, is that sex has a chaotic potential that goes well beyond the individual's control. Sex—whether prompted by desire or a variety of other nonsexual needs such as the need for affection—can blind, overwhelm, even destroy an otherwise ordinary orderly life, and Rossner wants a slow scrutiny of just how this comes to pass: how does it happen that a God-fearing Bible-toting 13-year-old in Puritan New England would consent to sexual relations at all, much less with an older married man? How does it happen that Stephen Maguire, a decent man as Rossner characterizes him, would allow himself to have adulterous sex with a child? And how does it...

(The entire section is 506 words.)

Marge Piercy

In Emmeline, Judith Rossner has taken on a plot of high improbable melodrama and come so close to making it believable that the part we cannot swallow scarcely bothers our enjoyment….

Of course, claiming an origin in fact does not excuse plots that creak or circumstances that collide with unlikely bangs. The weakest answer any novelist can ever give is that something was that way and therefore is so transcribed. Fictional truth is more shapely and more persuasive than reality. We know people more clearly, understand motives and see how events ramify, as we seldom can in real life. Only because Emmeline is well drawn and because we identify with her determination to survive difficulties and...

(The entire section is 604 words.)

Julian Moynahan

If "Emmeline" is a novel it is Judith Rossner's sixth…. A prefatory note explains that the author heard about Emmeline from one Nettie Mitchell, 94, who knew her when "she herself was a child and Emmeline an old woman." Nettie herself might be a fictional device, but even if she is not, responsibility remains with the author to make the title character, her ordeal, relationships and milieu real. (p. 13)

It is often discourteous and unnecessary to reveal a novel's plot, but in this case unfortunately the crudeness of the plot cannot be ignored: it thoroughly undermines the book's literary character.

[After giving her baby up for adoption], Emmeline stays at home for many peaceful...

(The entire section is 377 words.)

Eliot Fremont-Smith

It is strange, though not crucial, that the factual basis of Emmeline is indicated only in a tiny preface many readers may miss—strange because a myth-come-true (of this sort, anyway) has added punch and at the same time stills impertinent questions about coincidence. This is presumably one purpose of a publicity release to reviewers, which tells how Rossner came upon the story of Emmeline Mosher of Fayette, Maine, how details beyond bare bones were difficult to verify (church records were destroyed in a fire), how the imagination took over and the book was written. Perhaps I am too kind; but the impression persists (and intensifies my reading) that there really was an Emmeline Mosher to whom, in a harsh time...

(The entire section is 1063 words.)

Harriet Ritvo

Emmeline is a study in the psychology of victimization, and of survival. Circumstances thrust its heroine into the path of overwhelming historical, social and finally personal forces that thwart any attempt on her part to shape her own destiny. Yet she is never completely broken. Oddly self-contained and passive, more at home in the world of nature than in human society, Emmeline is shielded by an inviolable innocence from fully realizing the implications of her actions and experiences….

What is odd about Emmeline is that she has strong desires, yet she considers herself powerless. Her parents' decision to send her to Lowell is only the first of many times that others determine her fate. The...

(The entire section is 555 words.)

Walter Kendrick

Like Parisians, shrinks leave town in August. If they're New York shrinks, they flock to the Hamptons, where for one brief month no patients interrupt their lives. The patients, meanwhile, must fend for themselves. Along with the shorter breaks at Christmas and Easter, the recurrence of the August hiatus lends a rhythm to both sides of the psychoanalytic relationship. Enduring it or delighting in it, patient and analyst must somehow come to terms with August—the ritualized intrusion of time into the timeless world of the analytic session.

Judith Rossner's new novel takes its title and form from this fact of psychoanalytic sociology. Famous as a clinician of disordered minds—most memorably in...

(The entire section is 945 words.)

Laurie Stone

Throughout August, Rossner conveys the seriousness and excitement of psychoanalysis. Doctor and patient participate in a great cultural experiment, anatomizing the myths that shape consciousness and behavior. Disappointingly, when Lulu and Dawn are not thinking interesting psychoanalytic thoughts, their thoughts aren't very interesting. Rossner has imagined engrossing inner lives for her characters, but she hasn't matched them with equally sympathetic or compelling outer lives.

Love affairs take up a good deal of space in both women's lives…. These relationships are presented as heightened experience, but they come off just the opposite. Rossner doesn't show her characters feeling life more...

(The entire section is 417 words.)

Adam Mars-Jones

The modern heroines of Judith Rossner's recent fiction, Teresa in Looking for Mr. Goodbar and Dianne and Nadine in Attachments, were confronted with destructiveness, their own as well as the world's; Teresa was killed by a casual pickup, while Dianne and Nadine pressurized their husbands (who were Siamese twins) into being surgically separated, and then left them. Her new novel [August], without exactly brimming with optimism, has a new emphasis: on repairing damage, and living with scars.

August, traditionally, is the month when New York therapists take their holidays, leaving patients to cope with their interior lives as best they can. Dr Lulu Shinefeld is a successful,...

(The entire section is 563 words.)