Social Concerns / Themes

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Berger's Reinhart series began with Berger's first novel, and its composition has continued for nearly twenty-five years, with the possibility of further additions ahead. The saga provides comic portraits of American society over a period of more than three decades, beginning with the first two Reinhart novels, which deal with Carlo Reinhart's experiences in postwar Berlin and in the ebullient America of 1946-1947. Vital Parts (1970), the third book in the series, presents a satirical picture of middle-aged and overweight Reinhart beleaguered by the social changes of the late 1960s, although the 1960s counterculture was the object of some of Berger's satire. In all the Reinhart novels, the hero is essentially good-natured and kind-hearted, despite some occasional forays into roguery and trickery. Reinhart's heroes are King Arthur's knight errants — whom Berger celebrated in Arthur Rex — and his own efforts to help others are often hopelessly quixotic.

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In Reinhart's Women, many of the situations of Vital Parts are reversed. Whereas Reinhart was treated contemptuously by his son and his wife in Vital Parts, in a time of social instability, he is now living serenely with his daughter in a quieter era. An economic failure in Vital Parts, Reinhart becomes something of a celebrity and an economic success in Reinhart's Women by becoming a gourmet chef on a local television station. As a sensitive and resigned middle-aged man, he is irresistibly attractive to all sorts of women who in the earlier novel would have scorned him. Even his ex-wife, who had brutally ejected him from their marriage a decade earlier, now makes a brief effort to win him back (at which "he thrilled with horror," Berger writes). Such reversals of fortune suggest the unpredictability of modern American life, as well as the uncertainty of existence.

The most interesting theme of the novel is Reinhart's compassionate response to the many women he encounters, all of whom seem to be suffering from psychic wounds inflicted by the savage 1970s. Reinhart's daughter, Winona, with whom he lives, has become a fashion model who fears men because of her violation at sixteen by a child molester. Now in her twenties, she shocks Reinhart by revealing her choice of lesbianism. Even more shocking to Reinhart, his daughter-in-law. Mercer, comes to him for sanctuary from her troubled marriage with his son. Even his ex-wife surprises him by returning humbly after business setbacks in Chicago, and a genial divorcee of forty, Helen Clayton, sees Reinhart as an agreeable lover.

In his compassionate portrayal of these emotionally vulnerable women, Berger matches the success of his earlier retelling of the Arthurian saga, Arthur Rex, which is notable for its understanding portraits of its women, especially Guinevere, Isolde, and Morgan Le Fay. Consequently, Reinhart's Women, along with Arthur Rex, helps to compensate for Berger's failure to deal very satisfactorily with the concerns of the feminist movement in Regiment of Women (1973), a decade earlier.

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