After four years of an improbably happy marriage, Paulette's husband Howard leaves her for another woman. "Don't go," she says. "I can't help it," he says. "Why?" she says. "How should I know?" he says. "What does she do, anyway?" Paulette asks, as if it were a question of doing.
This is the theme of "In the Flesh," by Hilma Wolitzer. What do you do when love leaves?…
Paulette is no ordinary housewife, any more than she is a "mad housewife" of the type so common in current fiction. She overflows the ordinary in such an archetypal manner that she is rather like a culture in decline, the passing of a way of life….
What is so good about "In the Flesh" is the way Hilma Wolitzer's heroine defends herself. It is as if she had to restart the whole machinery of things, which had stopped….
In her loneliness, Paulette is both enterprising and comic: She is not absurd. There is nothing absurd about loneliness, about needing love. Though she is surrounded by absurdity, she refuses to succumb to it….
If you do read ["In the Flesh"], you will discover that doing justice to a good woman is more a matter of sensibility than of sexual politics, that a poignant novel is worth a thousand polemics.
Anatole Broyard, "Substitutes," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 11, 1977, p. 14.