The Rest of Life Critical Essays

Mary Gordon


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

For all of the novellas, Gordon has created singular female protagonists whose lives and experiences address key issues in contemporary society and relationships. Despite these characters’ distinctiveness, a close scrutiny of these women—two in their mid-forties, one in her late seventies—reveals that Gordon’s development of their personalities includes a number of interesting personal and professional similarities. For example, none of the three, all of whom are now divorced or widowed, wants to remarry. None has close female friends. All have children (Paola also has grandchildren); they abhor children’s being damaged, shamed, or isolated, and they delight in children’s buoyant gestures of well-being. All three highly intelligent protagonists have worked as professionals who attempt to restore their constituents’ lives, bodies, or minds. Each has a penchant for living in the present, for avoiding histrionics, and for a certain candid modesty in her private musings. All three are preoccupied by the meaning and implications of words in their and others’ lives. Each is more troubled by what she does not know than what she knows; no one pretends to more knowledge than she has. Each articulates deep uncertainties about crucial relationships in her life at the same time that she reveals an ability to structure a life for herself that incorporates uncertainties. The two protagonists in their mid-forties savor their and their lovers’ sexuality. Two of the...

(The entire section is 483 words.)