Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 519
Surely Caroline and Ralph Carter, the vibrant, generous mid-sixties couple whose spirit keep the family in contact, are among the most successful middleage characters in literature. Adams's trademark use of the opening paragraph to create a model for her entire work is evident in the first image of the Carters:...
(The entire section contains 519 words.)
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Surely Caroline and Ralph Carter, the vibrant, generous mid-sixties couple whose spirit keep the family in contact, are among the most successful middleage characters in literature. Adams's trademark use of the opening paragraph to create a model for her entire work is evident in the first image of the Carters: "impressive, even imposing . . . they are very large people, Caroline a tall fair woman, broad-faced, serene, with wideset green-blue eyes and heavy gray-blonde hair—and Ralph a towering, massive man." Their lives, however, have had ups and downs: "Ralph is Caroline's third husband, and she his fourth wife." Their warm, affirmative relationship, still very sexual, provides an anchor in the rather old-fashioned values they represent. Ralph's death from stroke removes this connection with a more generous, open time in American life, leaving the moral universe open to the equivocal and selfserving values of those replacing him—the Roland Gallo's of the world.
Traditionally, in American fiction, characters, especially male characters, define themselves by becoming autonomous, by moving away from known contexts and relationships to test themselves against the unknown—war, the West, monsters. Adams's characters, however, define themselves in terms of their past and their relationship to one another. More than just friends but not fully family either, the half sisters are bound together in complicated forms of rivalry, jealousy, and affection. Caroline negotiates a delicate balance between separation and connectedness with her daughters, finding that she must separate from all of them for a time after Ralph's death. Jill and Fiona share a bond and a set of values which are different from those of Sage and Portia, who join forces to protect themselves against their more rapacious siblings. Liza, set a little apart, observes and sometimes negotiates among the others. Although she seems the most like her mother ("both being large," Caroline thinks), her true nature is different, searching for fulfillment through her writing, as Caroline has through her connectedness with others. Sage's signature sculpture is five intertwined female figures, one larger than the others, and the reader surmises that Liza's fiction will probably reflect the family dance as well.
As their personal relationships are complicated and convoluted, so too are the women's relationships with men— frequently the same men. Sage is secretly in love with one her stepfather, Jim, while Roland Gallo has romanced first Sage, then Fiona, and finally Caroline herself. Jill is conducting a rather perverse affair with Sage's philandering husband, handsome Noel. Except for Ralph and Liza's husband, Saul, men are either charismatic, faithless womanizers, distant and fearful of commitment, or gay. In the late 1980's world, where greed, betrayal, and faithlessness are commonalities, and abandonment, AIDS, and domestic violence casual occurrences, connections between characters are hard to maintain. Jill and Fiona never do overcome or even recognize their own brittle self-absorption and lack of emotional connection. The others continue to struggle for a measure of fulfillment in work and personal relationships. Those who survive emotionally overcome their rage and pain to regard Roland Gallo, as Sage does, "as an exceptionally complicated, contradictory and humanly flawed person, whom she cares about, in his humanness."