To read Mrs. Ted Bliss for plot is to miss half the point of this last novel by award-winning writer Stanley Elkin. The novel does have a storyline, a somewhat quirky one, but one that lacks the coherence of a conventional cause-and-effect plot. The story is a bildungsroman of a seventy-plus-year-old woman, if such a novel can exist for an older person. As such, it is basically a quest story, with the poignant feature that Dorothy “Mrs. Ted” Bliss has absolutely no idea of what she is questing. In the end, with a hurricane battering at her picture windows, the answer becomes clear: She is seeking connection.
The connections that defined most of her adult life—those primary bonds to husband and family—are now broken by death or are weakened by distance and the generation gap. The book’s very title, implying Dorothy’s persistence in thinking of herself as Mrs. Ted Bliss instead of Dorothy Bliss, highlights the significance to her of her role as wife and mother. Her Passover visit to Rhode Island shows how peripheral she has become in the lives of her surviving children and grandchildren. There is both sadness and irony in the way she has always identified herself as “just a baleboosteh”—a Yiddish term meaning, approximately, “praiseworthy homemaker.” Her ingrained, praiseworthy-homemaker routine continues even without a family to care for.
Still, other connections begin to fall into Dorothy’s life, almost as if...
(The entire section is 541 words.)