Hilma Wolitzer Doris Grumbach - Essay

Doris Grumbach

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In the Flesh is first-rate, first-class, witty fiction. As a story it is unpretentious and almost commonplace, but even so, it is superbly told, a triumph of the unique voice that Wolitzer presents to us. Nothing could be more ordinary: a woman-wife, Paulette, aspires in her spare time to write poetry. The plot expands from the familial structure…. to accommodate "a touch of adultery": the affair of the wife and that of the husband, both transient events. There is a handful of peripheral friends, but mainly this is a simple celebration of the cohesion of the family unit….

In the process of creating this threnody to Hymen, Wolitzer takes us through some of the funniest minefields in contemporary fiction. She satirizes natural childbirth, supermarkets … pot, part-time employment for women—all the unsightly dandruff of young married life so often either ignored or vilified or romanticized in the fiction by women today….

Paulette—strong, self-deprecating, humorous—is heard in every sentence of the book, and hers is a prime and wonderful voice….

As the heroine herself says in her first poem, "The main thing is the way it's told." For In the Flesh, it's the whole thing, the novel's entire virtue, a triumph of the perfect placement of language. (p. 30)

Doris Grumbach, "Fine Print: 'In the Flesh'," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1977 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. 5, No. 1, October 1, 1977, pp. 30-1.