Social Concerns / Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Known as a comic writer whose satirical portraits of regions and decades, especially the 1970s, Alther explores manners and mores both in high culture and rural life. Her intricately interwoven plots and character sketches bring together beautiful people and bumpkins to create a comedy of manners which explores each character's search for validation, however misguided it may seem. Her central concern is the web of bonds and mores which connect individuals in families, friendships, and communities.

The novel's focus on the nearly twenty-year-old friendship between two women places human relationships, especially women's friendship, as a central concern. Marriage and family, too, are central, as the partnerships between Turner and Clea and Terence and Elke are explored, exploded, and redefined. Since these four characters are all at midlife and middle age, with children gone from the nest, marriages stagnant, and careers in the doldrums, a renewed understanding of life's priorities is even more compelling. Recognizing that both marriages and careers lack secure foundations unless unresolved issues are set aside, the two women defect from Manhattan to a remote ski village in Vermont, where everything takes a new tack. Personal relationships are reexamined, and the relationship between individual and the larger community, or the larger world, is redefined. Characters overcome familiar ways and predictable lives to reestablish themselves with new priorities.

Beyond the frequently comic, even satirical examination of yuppie life in the 1970s lies a serious theme — the search for meaning and purpose at the midpoint of an urbanized, regimented contemporary existence. In the face of a recent history and experience which appears either hopelessly slick and superficial or frighteningly evil and destructive, these...

(The entire section is 747 words.)