The Longings of Women

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In her World War II novel GONE TO SOLDIERS (1987), Marge Piercy told the story of a society by focusing on a few individuals; in THE LONGINGS OF WOMEN, she uses the same method to dramatize a social problem. Her three protagonists are women who committed themselves to marriage, only to be betrayed by their mates.

Once a suburban housewife, Mary Ferguson Burke is now homeless, forced into poverty after her husband decided to marry another woman. Rebecca Souze Burgess has done no better. After she married a man from a well-to-do family and settled down to be a perfect wife, she found that her husband was too spoiled to hold a job. Since he was clearly worth more dead than alive, “Becky” murdered him for his insurance money. Through the folly of her young male accomplice, she was caught, and she is now awaiting trial.

Leila Landsman, a sociology professor, is a pivotal character in the novel, since she knows both of the other women—Becky is the subject of a book she is writing, and Mary is a woman who cleans Leila’s house and finally collapses there. In their stories, Leila sees similarities to her own situation. She, too, has been expected to support her husband while he carouses, and now she, too, is being abandoned . THE LONGINGS OF WOMEN shows how women are victimized, rather than protected, by marriage and by men. Nevertheless, this compelling novel does not end on a despairing note. By becoming emotionally and economically independent, Piercy suggests, women can find the fulfillment they seek and even, on occasion, men worthy of them.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XC, December 1, 1993, p. 660.

Boston Globe. March 13, 1994, p. 92.

Chicago Tribune. April 17, 1994, XIV, p. 3.

Kirkus Reviews. LXI, December 15, 1993, p. 1546.

Library Journal. CXIX, January, 1994, p. 164.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. April 3, 1994, p. 5.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIX, March 20, 1994, p. 23.

Publishers Weekly. CCXL, December 13, 1993, p. 61.

The Washington Post Book World. XXIV, March 27, 1994, p. 5.

The Women’s Review of Books. XI, July, 1994, p. 46.