The Good Mother

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

For men and women who grew up feeling caught in the crossfire of warring cultural values characterizing much of the twentieth century, THE GOOD MOTHER, first novel of Sue Miller, offers a vivid emotional experience. Central character Anna Dunlop describes the unfolding events of her life amid recollections of her past. Only daughter of an overbearing mother and ineffectual father, Anna recounts the forces which fueled her ambitions as a pianist but repressed her sexuality and damaged her self-confidence.

The novel begins with Anna’s amicable divorce from her lawyer husband Brian, a moment of positive change. She has custody of her young daughter Molly and wants to be the kind of mother she did not have: open, supportive, unconditionally loving. Simultaneously, she wants to find herself, to become “her own person.” She gives piano lessons; works part-time; and becomes involved with artist Leo Cutter, who is passionate (unlike Brian) and devoted to her. With both sexual and emotional fulfillment, Anna dares to believe that she has found everything she every wanted--until Brian, remarried and settled, accuses Leo of “sexual irregularities” with Molly and files suit for custody.

The novel’s plot is dense with events and relationships which, in other hands, might be the stuff of tawdry romance. Miller, however, skillfully renders individual characters and perceptively observes rich details of everyday life to create a wholly absorbing and believable world. The book is sexually explicit, but it is neither pornographic nor clinical: Miller manages to combine objectivity and involvement with great finesse.

Finally, the novel is a deeply persuasive account of the dilemmas with parents and lovers face in a world of multiple and often contradictory values. It is a...

(The entire section is 736 words.)