Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 689
Attachments, Rossner’s fifth novel, succeeds Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1975), the work that brought her renown and financial stability. In all of her earlier novels, Rossner portrays women who seek order and meaning, but Nadine excels her predecessors in consciousness and complexity.
Nadine’s quest for structure and meaning involves a search for role models and for purpose. Intelligent and perceptive, yet lacking in physical beauty, she is incompatible with the environment of her glamorous but superficial parents. Her mother’s vapidity, self-centered melancholy, and inability to see anything beneath the surface eliminate her as a feasible role model for her daughter. Leaving Bard College after hearing of the illness of her mentor Dr. Story, Nadine says she “hit the road for California, where my natural mother clung to life by a thread of misery too straggly for cancer to bother eroding.”
Other potential roles are unattainable. Dianne’s mother, a brilliant psychologist, arouses Nadine’s admiration, but the subtle hostility between Dr. Shapiro and her daughter precludes the possibility of forming a mentor relationship. Dr. Story, who could teach Nadine the rules of life (the “not done’s”), leaves academe to battle death. Nadine’s attempts to share her anger and grief with Dr. Becker, her boyfriend’s dentist-mother, fall on uncommunicative ears. Thus, Nadine’s confusion, inner rage, and sense of isolation partly stem from her rootlessness and her ambiguity concerning her role in adulthood, since she has no older woman on whom to pattern her life.
Closely connected to Nadine’s search for a model is her quest for purpose. Unfortunately, the projects that she undertakes to attain this goal bring only short-lived satisfaction. As a young woman, she takes Dianne’s advice to go east to improve her mind. Her life as a scholar ends abruptly, however, when Dr. Story becomes ill. Later, she makes a “career” of decorating the house that she, Dianne, and the twins have purchased; but once the walls are papered and the rugs laid, the project is complete. After the birth of Dianne’s daughter, Carly, Nadine enjoys several years of fulfillment in caring for this child as well as for her own; yet, when the children are older, she finds the role of full-time homemaker unnecessary and stagnant. Only by striking out on her own can Nadine discover real purpose and meaning in her life.
Rossner’s use of symbols helps to convey her themes. Nadine’s flights across the United States, for example, represent her journeys in search of meaning and order. Inadvertently, Nadine also sends Carly on a journey by her unconscious rejection of her, while Carly, in turn, “travels” to a new world of marijuana and seemingly sympathetic friends.
Some of the characters’ names have symbolic significance. “Di,” the name Nadine uses in reference to Dianne, is “id” in reverse, and the id is the part of the psyche that is out of touch with reality. “Nadine,” on the other hand, is a play on “nadir,” or lowest point: the position Nadine thinks that she occupies in relation to Dianne. “Tumulty,” the surname that Nadine assumes during her first, short-lived marriage, calls to mind her own inner tumult, while “Smith” is reminiscent of common, everyday life, in which she tries to find contentment. Even Dr. Story’s name is significant, as “story” suggests a lack of reality. Although Nadine would like to cultivate the professor’s friendship, her wish is unrealistic, as Dr. Story is on the verge of death.
Rossner uses mirroring to convey Nadine’s self-realization. Like Amos and Eddie, Dianne and Nadine appear to be opposite in personality. Dianne is a genius, Nadine an underachiever; Nadine is an instigator, Dianne a follower; Dianne looks calmly at the world, while Nadine sees herself and everything around her as “churning.” Nevertheless, as the novel progresses, Nadine understands that she and Dianne are basically alike. After standing up to her friend, Nadine realizes that she too is intelligent and that Dianne maintains her equanimity only by refusing to look at the truth. Were she to remove her mental blinders, she would be as agitated as Nadine.