During the early part of her career, Oates was viewed as a woman writer on the periphery of the women’s movement. In the 1980’s, her writing began to focus more frequently on stories and characters with particularly feminine or feminist concerns. Solstice, like Marya: A Life which followed it, exemplifies this development, portraying a relationship between two women in a small Pennsylvania town.
Monica Jensen, recently divorced and attempting to start a new life in the wake of her failed marriage, has relocated from New York City and accepted a teaching assignment at the local boys’ academy. Sheila Trask, older and more worldly, is a successful artist, the widow of a famous sculptor; she lives alone and detached from the community in a fine old country house. The novel, which is told from Monica’s viewpoint, is divided into four sections that reflect four stages in her development.
The first, titled, “The Scar,” details Monica’s adjustment to country life, her first casual encounters with Sheila, and her growing attraction to the other’s lively personality. Sheila is the stronger of the two, and Monica, in emotional recovery, is timid, hesitant, and flattered to accept Sheila’s friendly attention.
As the two become acquainted, their friendship becomes the foundation of their social lives. “The Mirror-Ghoul,” the second section, shows the process by which the women come to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, to provide necessary support, to reflect each other. On Sheila’s urging, they begin frequenting local taverns and bowling alleys, pretending to be lively country divorcees; this activity delights Sheila but leads to adventures and moral considerations that discomfort and frighten Monica....
(The entire section is 730 words.)