(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

The heroine of Other Women is trying to make her way through a midlife crisis with the help of a sympathetic counselor. Caroline Kelly is the single mother of two teenage children; she is divorced from a doctor and is confronting the wish of her lesbian partner for an end to their relationship. She has also become increasingly bothered by her work as an emergency room nurse. In desperation, and despite her mistrust of psychology generally, she seeks help from a therapist, Hannah Burke.

The bulk of the novel is devoted to showing the extent to which Caroline’s life has been influenced by her parents, professional do-gooders who devoted so much caring to people in need that they had no love left for their children. Their harshness shows itself even in their behavior toward Caroline’s children. Hannah Burke is also the product of a form of neglect and is therefore qualified to recognize Caroline’s problem and help her to deal with it.

Caroline’s identity problem also involves her love life. She had divorced her husband because of his neglect of her emotional needs and had found warmth as well as sexual fulfillment in a relationship with another woman. That relationship has foundered, however, because it has lost its spontaneity. Caroline finds herself tempted by another man, a doctor like her husband but apparently more sensitive. As the new relationship develops, however, she recognizes, with Hannah’s help, that it would only...

(The entire section is 429 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Caroline Kelly is a thoroughly and helplessly divided woman. She has been married and divorced. She left her husband for a hippie and his commune only to find that she is strongly attracted to a woman with whom she shares her lover. She currently lives with another woman, Diana, in a downstairs apartment with her two sons, while Diana lives upstairs with her adolescent daughter, Sharon. The two women have been physically involved, but their relationship is under great strain; Caroline decides she must have help. She goes to Hannah Burke for therapy.

Caroline’s divided nature displays itself as soon as Hannah asks her to think of words that define herself. When Caroline thinks of a positive quality, such as kindness, it is immediately negated by recollections of times when she had been cruel to someone she loved. When she comes up with generosity, she remembers occasions of parsimony in her dealings with others. Her problems are deeply personal, but she feels that to focus on them is pointless when there is so much pain and agony in the world. Her sexual nature, in which she prefers women but also enjoys sex with men and looks to men for security, is a further manifestation of the division in her psyche. So is her choice of profession. She not only chooses to be a nurse, but she also works in situations in which human pain and misery are constantly and immediately present, although that pain hurts her deeply.

As Caroline’s therapy proceeds, the stories of her life and of Hannah’s are gradually revealed. Some of their experiences are similar. Hannah’s mother had died when Hannah was very young and her father had taken her from Australia to England, leaving her to be raised by a grandmother. Caroline’s father was gone for years during World War II, and her parents always maintained an emotional distance from her and their other children. Hannah is distinctly heterosexual, an orientation that Caroline, for a time, takes as implying a criticism of her own divided nature and less conventional lifestyle. Hannah is considerably older than her patient but like Caroline has to wrestle with depression and misery. For years after two of her four children had been killed in a freak accident, she alternated periods of rage and of despair. The equanimity that Caroline envies is hard-won.

Caroline’s troubles are traceable to her childhood. Both of her parents were heavily involved in charitable work of one kind or another, and they continually reminded their children that they were much more fortunate than the subjects of the parents’ charities. Having given themselves so completely to their good works, the...

(The entire section is 1079 words.)