Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Judith Rossner’s best-known novel, is a roman à clef about a young, convent-schooled, lower middle-class but respectable, Irish Catholic woman from the Bronx, New York City. Her body and psyche are scarred by a childhood, polio-induced curvature of the spine, which has been physically corrected by surgery. The twenty-eight-year-old woman has also suffered from an ugly-duckling complex as a result of having a supposedly more glamorous older sister. Theresa Dunn has little empathy, however, for a younger sibling, a conventional housewife who is perennially (and to Theresa, distastefully) pregnant.
Theresa’s lack of self-worth, despite a degree from the City College of New York and a job as a first-grade schoolteacher, takes her down a bleak and ultimately violent path. That road begins with her first affair with a married English professor in college. He is depicted as a self-serving creep who cynically exploits her before leaving her.
Her subsequent means of escape from her feelings of rejection and loneliness are casual affairs, interspersed at one point by a relationship with a Jesuit-trained Irish Catholic lawyer whose lovemaking she finds anesthetic. Theresa comes to dread “the quicksand of Irish Catholic life in the Bronx” when James Morrisey becomes serious about her.
Rossner’s story, based on the real New York murder case of Katherine Cleary by Joe Willie Simpson on New...
(The entire section is 410 words.)