Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In an impressionistic collage of prose vignettes, Adler airs her views on social and political issues as well as mulling over such mundane topics as bad drivers and the possible evolution of the convention according to which a football quarterback wipes his hands on a towel draped from the hind parts of the center in front of him. Much of her political and social commentary presumably emanates from her personal experience in the 1960’s, and her conservative slant is thinly veiled. The law profession is probed and condemned with a special vengeance that is closely connected with her alienation from Jake, as she seeks to rationalize a way to escape their futile love affair. She comments viciously on the legal system: “Here, on the other hand, with an ingenuity that should take an entrepreneurial schemer’s breath away, there has evolved the following proposition: that a legal job no sooner comes into existence than it generates, immediately and of necessity, a job for a competitor. I can think of no other line of work where this is true.”

Adler’s main theme, however obliquely presented, is love, especially the love of a mistress for a married man. Her comments on this topic are poignant. “Is it always the same story, then?” she asks. It is always the case that “somebody loves and somebody doesn’t.” Sadly, she concludes that “someone is a good soul and someone a villain.” It is obvious that in her own case Kate Ennis has cast herself in the role of the “good soul” and Jake in that of “the villain.” She repeatedly asks, “But can we live this way?” She finally decides—or has decided at the novel’s opening—that the answer is no, that the crumbs are not enough sustenance. It is then that she tries to make her escape. This prompts the repeated refrain, “Did I throw the most important thing perhaps, by accident, away?”