Lois Gould Gould, Lois (Vol. 4) - Essay

Gould, Lois (Vol. 4)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Gould, Lois

Ms Gould, an American novelist and nonfiction writer, formerly served as executive editor of Ladies' Home Journal.

[Such Good Friends] borders on soap opera: suffering wife stunned by sensational revelations! Can her love overcome her hurt and cure the dying daddy? But Lois Gould's tone is too bitchy to be soft, her observations too acerbic to allow for sentimentality and her details of a "middle-class-but-with-it" New York milieu too keenly observed and solid for the pasteboard backing of "As the World Turns."…

Miss Gould has larded her first novel with as many four-letter words as can be gratuitously jammed into her gratuitous sex passages. Unhappily, dirty words do not a female Portnoy make. But despite what appears to be either innate vulgarity or a cynical bid for sales, she has written a very funny, keenly observed chronicle of middle-class manners.

Paul D. Zimmerman, in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time Inc.), June 1, 1970, p. 88.

Such Good Friends is more personal and honest and graphic than Portnoy's Complaint. But Philip Roth's crazy, hilarious irony is one thing: Lois Gould's depressive, desperately unhappy bitterness, another. Like Roth's, her novel may induce tears—but not from laughing….

Lois Gould's frantic, cruel rectital of modern middle-class woman's lot is an imaginative chapter in the feminist struggle. It is also another of the many recent signposts of social and psychological and political change going on….

It does no good to call Julie Messinger insensitive and tactless. Her life is loveless and barren, the friends around her loveless and insensitive and tactless. She doesn't know how she got into her uptight, jammed-up mess, nor how to break out of it: the whole depressing chaos started so long ago for her, as it has for others. How many Julie Messingers are out there now, trying to find some point for the absurd catastrophe of their lives?

Even though this is her first novel, Lois Gould writes as idiomatically and naturally and truthfully as an old pro. And, notwithstanding the curious unconscious insensitivity of its acutely sensitive author, Such Good Friends is an important, awful, believable book. Many men will resent it, but the novel will change the lives of many women. Certainly, I don't see how the marriage of any couple can be the same after they have read it.

Joel Lieber, in Saturday Review (copyright © 1970 by Saturday Review, Inc.; reprinted with permission), June 13, 1970, p. 43.

Here is that paradox of paradoxes—a novel clearly destined for best-sellerdom that actually deserves to be widely read. Such Good Friends is a brilliant, compulsively readable first novel recalling Alison Lurie at her bitchy best. It is both tough-minded and moving; a passionate cri de coeur about such knee-slappers as death, betrayal, and Women's Liberation that is sustainedly funny.

The good friends of the title are a band of hip, affluent New Yorkers who flock to the bedside of Richard Messinger, a magazine art director, when the news spreads that he is in a coma induced by a fluky reaction to anesthesia he was given for minor surgery. When it becomes advisable to replace all of Richard's blood, hordes of donors jam the hospital corridors until "it was like Friday night outside the Cinema Rendezvous. What could possibly be playing? Coma! Starring Somebody You Really Know!"…

The finest scenes are at the hospital. A former reporter and magazine editor, Mrs. Gould has an extraordinarily sensitive eye for the telling detail…. The whole psychology of the death-watch is explored brilliantly here….

This eye for detail is Mrs. Gould's major gift as a novelist, and goes far to compensate for makeshift plotting and relatively shallow characterization (none of the friends is really memorable on his own). The novel is obviously deeply autobiographical, and I wonder whether Mrs. Gould will be able to write a second one in which she is less personally involved, because her traumatic experience here has not been fully objectified into the serenely universal condition of art.

As it stands, though, Such Good Friends is a tour de force of journalistic narrative—fast-paced, and written in a no-nonsense style. Above all, a rueful, malign wit cuts through any potential self-pity in it like a shot of lemon juice in a bowl of borscht.

Richard Freedman, in Book World (© The Washington Post), June 21, 1970, p. 5.

With commendable candor, Lois Gould has chosen Erica Jong's poem "Autobiography" as the epigraph of [Final Analysis]. ("The lover in these poems/is me … All this is true.") At its best, it is the slight but cleverly written and curiously moving story of a thirtyish woman journalist as she wars with herself and her masculine-dominated world in search of … well, a little dignity….

In [some] passages we see Gould's protagonist whole and entire, a very real and affecting figure in a landscape of ghastly familiarity, as she comes to grips with the invidious sexual programming that is every woman's lot and burden: to lie about her age and worry compulsively about her looks, to clean up frantically after men, to be humble before them, and—above all—not to compete with them, especially on their own terms. The yoke she bears is not of her own devising and yet, like some rebellious serf, she must carry it throughout her days and feel its weight upon her shoulders every hour she lives. And the loneliness of that burden is a terrible one.

All too soon, however, the book veers almost frantically in another less profitable direction, and before we know it, we are back in picture-puzzle land again. Try as we will to avert our eyes and suspend our curiousity, pull though we do for the author (wing it, girl! wing it!), there is no way to avoid the inevitable: all those real people keep trotting out, and to our dismay we find ourselves hotly engaged in the same old guessing game: Who is the magazine editor, really? Is the abominable novelist supposed to be Norman Mailer or Irving Wallace? And what names can we put to those faces in the crowd at the Hamptons? It is like some hideous bout of charades during a long weekend in the provinces, boring, inescapable, distracting, and enraging. We would give much to tear ourselves away from it, but some mysterious force holds us; and anyway, there is nothing else to do. Saddest of all, through it all there still flickers—at times faintly and at times with a tantalizing, warm, but impossibly distant glow—the light of a much finer and far more important book that simply is not getting written. There was so much to be said.

L. J. Davis, in Book World—The Washington Post (© The Washington Post), April 14, 1974, p. 3.

Now I could bite the bullet and read ["Final Analysis"] as an infatuated account of an obsessed woman's unrelieved self-loathing, an explicit study of masochism, with a rare candor that both excites and repels. Lois Gould is no novice at the examination of masochism. In "Such Good Friends," the author's first and fiercely interesting novel, there was another female victim, this one a betrayed wife who sits in the hospital waiting room, receiving merciless reports on her dying husband's concealed, complex erotic life. Here too, the woman had wept, neglected—and shoved to her side of the kingsized bed. One felt the wife's rage, her terror, all the unmanageable feelings stirring out of her numbed narcissism.

Yet Lois Gould has somehow refused these valuable feelings, and even suggests that, oh, well, he wasn't really so bad, and the wife laments after his death, "I miss something that must have been us. Because we were something, in spite of each other, weren't we?" What they were was married, and the women in Lois Gould's novels seem to share the conviction that with husbands they are something, without them they are nothing, orphans of the storm.

Iris Owens, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 14, 1974, p. 7.

While creating the fluff of women's glamor magazines, Gould's freelance femme lives in a generally sustained manic giggle, which, when seasoned by drink, dexies, or the threat of personal happiness, turns into floods of tears. "Final Analysis," like a wet Kleenex, is a by-product of women's dependency problems….

One virtue of Gould's book is that it creates a feminine universe, in which the doctor's stick-figure existence is at least partial reply to centuries of male-oriented fiction. There are no direct exchanges about the content of their relationship because Dr. Foxx is such a foil, and the reality comes across simply through the totality with which the heroine is consumed by her problem.

Both characters lack curiosity about who and why they are, just as Gould lacks awareness that her consciousness as a writer is made possible by the struggles of women writers in the past….

There is, finally, little sense of [the heroine's] having learned from her struggle or problems; Lois Gould has penetrated the universe of women and come back with a box of chocolate-covered teardrops.

Martin Washburn, in The Village Voice (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice; © 1974 by The Village Voice, Inc.), April 18, 1974, pp. 30-1.

[Final Analysis is] a slick romance about a lonely, disaffected psychiatrist and his guilt-ridden, weepy ex-patient which is occasionally quite funny but pushes feminism and enlightenment-through-psychiatry in the same way that old-fashioned romances used to push love and moral rectitude. The characters here—the woman's friends in a consciousness-raising group, the piggy publishing men who treat her so badly, and even the sloppy, absentminded psychiatrist—never really jell, because they are more like peripheral exhibits in the woman's case history than believable people. The woman herself is sharp and clear. Like most Gould heroines, she's a rather endearing schlemiel who knows she deserves a better life than the one she is living, but even she is subjected to too much labeling and packaging (expressions like "I'm functioning" and "needing someone emotionally" appear with depressing frequency), and, throughout, the author's tart, irreverent sense of humor is undercut by the heavy-handed politicking.

The New Yorker, April 22, 1974, p. 154.

Miss Gould has assayed a satiric novel [Final Analysis] about an analyst, an analysand, and that portion of the literary world which is presided over by male magazine editors. It would be one of those novels that might be passed over without a word were it not for its inordinately irritating qualities, notable among them the archness and the sentimentality that lie at the core of it. It is a peculiarly unpleasant—one might be tempted to say unhealthy—form of sentimentality, coming as it does at the heels of Miss Gould's version of satire. Satire, one is given to understand from the execution of this novel, is that vision which proceeds from hatred and wretchedness; love is what proceeds from health and openness. Miss Gould perpetrates this simple, if unconscious, belief on a novel about which it ought to be said only that it has, at heart, the point of view of a daytime TV serial, with none of the saving brevity of that form, and that it can be counted on, page after page, to serve up with singular self-confidence most of the clichés of our time about analysis and male chauvinism and the politics of personal relationships.

Dorothy Rabinowitz, in Saturday Review/World (copyright © 1974 by Saturday Review/World Inc.; reprinted with permission), May 18, 1974, p. 28.