Attachments, Judith Rossner’s most recent novel, could as easily be entitled “Disentanglements,” since as the title implies, the novel attempts to describe and explore not only the ties that bind people together but also the reasons they break apart. To fulfill her purpose, Rossner creates two female characters and two male so that she can depict the whole range of relationships of pairs of lovers and pairs of friends: the friendship of the women, of the men, of one man and one woman, and the intimate pairing of male and female lovers. Certainly her premise, stated so succinctly in the title, is not unusual in the novel, and she has dutifully created appropriate characters to act out her purpose. Yet it is Rossner’s deliberation that seems to have resulted in the central core and the central problem of the book: the two men are Siamese twins, joined by a twenty-inch piece of flesh on their abdomens.
It is as if Rossner asked herself, What emblem could I use to provide a tangible, objective correlative for human attachment? What better emblem than an actual bridge of flesh? Perhaps her premise is that one can talk about normal human relationships in relief, as it were, by depicting those that are grotesque. An interesting, even bizarre premise, but does it mean Rossner fulfills her purpose? She does, but only in part, because of the limits that the selection of the situation of the twins, a first-person narrator, and certain characterizations impose on the novel from the onset.
Think about it. What sort of plot is the only plot possible if two characters are Siamese twins? Amos and Eddie Smith (is there some reference here to Amos and Andy of television fame?) meet two women, Nadine Tumulty (whose life, as her name implies, is a chaotic, random series of events), and Dianne Shapiro, her friend. The girls marry the twins, and the reader is permitted to view at length their marital relations. Friction results, children result, the twins have a successful operation to separate them, more problems occur, and finally the couples divorce. The inevitability of these events slows the pace of the novel since one already knows the outcome of any given segment of the book. Indeed, perhaps because of this plot, Rossner chooses to tell the story from the point of view of one character, Nadine, so that the unpredictableness of personality can mitigate the predictability of the plot itself.
Nadine is the instigator of the plot. Fascinated from an early age with the idea of Siamese twins because of her loneliness, her “empty space” inside, she has wished to be a twin. She has always been, she tells the reader, seeking an “other,” a self to fill up this space. Hence to her, the twins, Amos and Eddie, are “beautiful,” not freakish at all. The first part of the novel is a bildüngsroman-like account of Nadine’s Hollywood upbringing and subsequent education from which the reader can discern her motivations for feeling so alone. She gets good grades, we find, because of her “attachments” to teachers, she loses a mentor to breast cancer and feels alone; she finds virginity a burden and sets out to lose it; her parents are electrocuted in a freak (yes) accident. It is no wonder, the reader is to conclude, that she wishes to marry Amos and convince her best friend, Dianne, to marry Eddie. When the two couples move from Los...
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