The Physics of Sunset

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The neighborhoods that lie in the hills above Berkeley, California, form the backdrop for a couple who seek to find erotic fulfillment with each other. Alec is a successful architect with two children and a wife, Gina, with ambitions of her own, as a sculptress. For some reason, Alec is troubled by the rich, full life Gina leads and her many female friends, referring to them as “her women,” as though they were part of a harem denied to him. He feels that Gina has abandoned him both emotionally and domestically. One of Gina’s friends suggests that Alec have an affair, even going through a list of women suitable for this fling. Alec considers that women are living by their own rules, which he cannot understand.

Anna is a poet, used to staying home with her small daughter, but barely able to cope with most aspects of her life. She finds herself attracted to Alec in the wake of discovering her husband’s infidelity and demand for a divorce. She tells herself that starting an affair is wrong and bound to lead to disaster; Alec hopes to be a person so driven by passion that he cannot help his desire.

Despite their misgivings, Alec and Anna finally get together. They find that they can talk about everything, from physics to the qualities of color. Their sexual experiences, however, tend to reveal their deep need to be punished for their transgressions. Alec arranges Anna in her bed with various accessories, and Anna endures a certain amount of pain without protest. They drift apart more easily than they entered into their relationship, with Anna convinced that the pain she endured was necessary to her emotional maturity.