Other Women is a realistic novel whose intention is to convince the reader that the two principal characters represent real people with the problems of the real world, and these characters live with other real people in real circumstances and locations. Lisa Alther is dealing with what she regards as serious problems in a serious manner, so Other Women lacks the satiric bite and comic dimension of her Kinflicks (1976) and Original Sins (1981). There is some humor in the novel, for example, in the jokes Caroline and Hannah tell each other when the therapeutic sessions become too intense. There is also satire in the depiction of Caroline’s grotesque parents: They are so extreme in their “do-gooding” that they are nearly caricatures. Still, the tone of the novel is serious.
In Other Women, Alther explores the therapeutic relationship in two ways that break new ground. First, the novel is entirely sympathetic to the role of psychotherapy in assisting troubled women to face life without fear. Hannah is no Freudian, but she uses many of the techniques in general use in psychiatry and in some psychoanalysis. Second, Alther portrays the patient-therapist relationship as very much a two-way street. The therapy that Hannah supplies for Caroline is affected directly and indirectly by events, memories, and changes in Hannah’s personal life. At the same time, Caroline’s experiences and the emotions she shows during sessions of therapy...
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