(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Caroline Ferrante is a curious composite. She is friendly, capable, and creative, and through several wonderful family coincidences, finds herself cooking with an Italian family near Florence.

This situation seems like Caroline’s dream come true. Things become complicated when Caroline falls for and becomes pregnant by a very willful Sicilian. They marry, continue working together at a ristorante, and soon baby Olivia joins them. As Angelo begins to find other bodies and souls more interesting than his wife’s, as he begins physically to block Caroline from access to her baby daughter, realities alter. When her daughter becomes so spiteful and Angelo so impossible, Caroline makes the decision to return to New York alone. Away from the anti-Semitic prejudices of her husband, and her daughter’s acceptance of these attitudes, Caroline takes her life into her own capable hands. With warm support from those around her, she re-creates her professional life by establishing television cooking classes. Caroline’s sense of enjoyment makes her a natural and successful instructor. After all she has years of real life experiences in Italy from which to choose. Rossner uses somewhat gratuitous television producers and stereotyped performers as amusing foils for the intense personal drama that is unfolding.

The inevitable phone call comes from Olivia, who can no longer tolerate her father’s new wife. She prefers to come live with her mother, whom she barely knows. Caroline is at once pleased and terrified. What truths will be shared? What hostilities must be worked out? With a hopeful suitor named Leon lurking in the apartment building, Caroline has some serious choices to make in her complex relationship with Olivia as well as with Leon and his children.

Life takes a dramatic turn when, after having her own baby, Olivia sinks into a overwhelming depression. Realities are sometimes more than a fragile system can accept, and Rossner’s treatment of this situation is sensitive with a marvelous tinge of humor just where the reader needs it.

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Olivia, like other of Rossner's books, begins at the end, using a chatty, confessional voice to introduce the main character's...

(The entire section is 322 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Olivia's subtitle, The Weight of the Past, emphasizes what should be a major avenue of exploration in this novel — the extent to...

(The entire section is 348 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In Olivia, Rossner continues several well-established themes in her writing, particularly the need for a woman to have a life and...

(The entire section is 773 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

One critic has linked this novel to Woody Allen for its depiction of Upper West Side Jewish Manhattan and to Edith Wharton for its mores, but...

(The entire section is 142 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Olivia continues the move away from the feminist position of her early books, a departure that became obvious in His Little...

(The entire section is 133 words.)