(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 18)

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...

(The entire section is 1379 words.)

Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Attachments is the story of a woman’s attempt to shape order out of chaos and her eventual realization of self. Nadine represents cognizant women who tried to find substance beneath the fabrications and superficialities of society in the 1950’s and early 1960’s.

As a child, Nadine tries to find containment in the nucleus of her family. Her search is futile, however, as her mental life is several levels deeper that of her parents. A former college coach and a Miss America contestant, her father and mother are bewildered by the spectacled, shrill-voiced daughter who has entered their lives, and the child, in turn, is puzzled by her parents’ preoccupation with appearance and their glamorous pasts. As the parents are enamored of each other, it seems to Nadine that she is excluded from their intimacy. Feeling abandoned, she develops a fascination for Siamese twins—two persons who will never be alone. Since Nadine cannot be a Siamese twin, she contrives to meet Amos and Eddie Smith, becoming the mistress of both and later the wife of Amos.

Nadine also tries to absolve her loneliness through her friendship with Dianne, a fifteen-year-old high school senior who eventually marries Eddie Smith. Nadine makes the mistake, however, of placing Dianne on a pedestal, deeming her gifted friend vastly superior to herself. Part of Dianne’s attractiveness is her place of origin: the East Coast. In Nadine’s imagination, life in the East is...

(The entire section is 438 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Through both Nadine and Dianne, Rossner calls attention to injurious middle-class ideologies concerning women, particularly during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Nadine falls victim to the consensus that women can find fulfillment in marriage and motherhood. Hence, she marries both times because getting married is the thing to do; in neither case does she experience love. She finds satisfaction in being a mother but feels restless and empty once the children are older and more independent; the state of motherhood cannot fulfill her when she has no one to mother.

Dianne’s postpartum depression reflects a growing phenomenon of her time. According to a study conducted in the 1950’s, approximately one in three new mothers suffered depression or psychosis following childbirth. The study indicated a common factor among these mothers: All had discontinued their educations below the level of their potential. Although Dianne, a graduate of both college and law school, has acquired a level of education commensurate with her ability, she ceases performing to potential when she decides to become a full-time mother; in other words, she goes against her grain in giving up the work she loves. Dianne’s one acknowledgment of her true nature occurs when she remarks to Nadine that she would have the energy to perform on a job, if only she could get out of the house. Rossner seems to be saying that unhappiness stems from denying individual needs, in favor of conforming to what society deems one should desire.

Some critics claim that Rossner’s novels resemble those of the nineteenth century, in that her heroines are searching for structure and self-fulfillment. Unlike such heroines, however, Rossner’s protagonists are neither rich nor impoverished; members of the middle class, they conduct their searches within the realm of ordinary life. Moreover, they do not find perfect contentment in their relationships with men. In short, Rossner departs from the pattern of the traditional romance by refusing to portray love and marriage as the gold at the end of the rainbow. Her works show that while matrimony may afford satisfaction, the satisfaction is tenuous; women can discover true meaning in their lives only by becoming complete and independent human beings. Thus, Rossner establishes a new model for women’s literature in the late twentieth century.

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Attachments begins with a chatty tone that some critics have found annoyingly close. The language in the opening pages is clever and...

(The entire section is 140 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The bizarre marriage described in Attachments is largely a metaphor for Rossner's deep interest in the human need to be "attached."...

(The entire section is 302 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The major social issue developed in Attachments is the need for a woman to have a meaningful life of her own. Attachments...

(The entire section is 85 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

No one has written fiction about this particular subject matter before, although there is some basis in fact for the marriage of Siamese...

(The entire section is 144 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. New York: W. W. Norton, 1963. An objective look at suburban society and the status of women in the 1950’s. Through numerous examples, Friedan shows that woman’s limited role as full-time housewife is emotionally crippling.

Harvey, Brett. The Fifties: A Women’s Oral History. New York: HarperCollins, 1993. A discussion of the restraints and expectations placed upon women during the 1950’s, supported by a plethora of case studies. In the chapter entitled “Post-Doc or Paella,” Harvey cites a customary greeting from a Radcliffe president, who tells students that their educations would be good preparation for marriage and motherhood. The supposition that motherhood was woman’s only real function led many, such as the character of Dianne, to abandon all other pursuits.

Heilbrun, Carolyn. Reinventing Womanhood. New York: W. W. Norton, 1979. A treatise on the traditional dependency of women and their lack of role models. Heilbrun cites two types of mothers: the high-achieving mother, such as Dr. Shapiro, who is hated by her daughter; and the passive mother, who cannot serve as a role model.

Hite, Molly. The Other Side of the Story: Structures and Strategies of Contemporary Feminine Literature. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989. A discussion of the attempt on the part of women writers to create a different literary style that expresses the feminine view of situations. Argues that while Rossner’s style is not markedly innovative, the tone of frenzy in Attachments captures a woman’s desperate striving to piece together the chaotic and fragmented world in which she lives.