(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although “Terrific Mother” follows Adrienne’s life for almost a year, the dominant event in the story takes place at a Labor Day barbecue, at which she is involved in an accident that results in a baby’s death. When the picnic table on which Adrienne is sitting collapses, she lets go of the child she is holding, inadvertently causing its death. Adrienne becomes devastated by guilt. This guilt is exacerbated by the fact that, shortly before this event, friends advised Adrienne that she should have her own baby because she would make a fine mother. Suffering a numbing depression, Adrienne retreats into her attic apartment for seven months, taking pains to avoid contact with people.

Martin Porter, a professor in economics, attempts to wrest her from Adrienne solitude and eventually convinces her to marry him, although she feels that her role in the baby’s death has made her a pariah unfit for normal life. Martin wins a scholarship that allows him and his spouse to spend a month in a luxurious mountain villa in northern Italy. There, amid other academics and their partners, he revises a book, and Adrienne is given a studio to pursue her artwork. Much of the story takes place over mealtimes at the resort, occasions during which Adrienne meets numerous scholars, most of whom are self-absorbed specialists. She is not taken seriously by the academics because of her status as a spouse. Obsessed by the earlier accident with the baby, Adrienne cannot do...

(The entire section is 551 words.)