Rhine Maidens

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 14)

The image of Rhine maidens originates in Wagnerian opera. Maidens on the Rhine sing of the power of love. Men come along, scorn love, and steal the maidens’ treasure. And as men had power over the Rhine maidens, so do they over the women in Carolyn See’s new novel.

Rhine Maidens is an unconventional story about women who have lived their lives through their men. It explores how two women, mother and daughter, respond to the loss of love in their lives. At once hilarious and despairing, Rhine Maidens also captures the tacky, seedy, and glamorous modern-day Los Angeles and offers many amusing observations about life in general through the two main characters.

Grace Jackson, once a beautiful ambitious girl, is a demanding old woman in the present frame of the novel. Her first husband left her for a younger woman, a male suitor who bored her committed suicide because of her, and a second husband, an unfortunate drunk, died after a brief, unhappy marriage with her. Grace spends her time lamenting her lost youth and all the disappointments in her life, waiting for something else to go wrong. She misses the glamour of her youth. To Grace, the good life was perfect little black sandals, a paycheck for $27.50, and carrying the right newspaper while shopping downtown. Presently, all she knows how to do is laugh at people.

Grace’s daughter, Garnet, is a spectacularly unremarkable Brentwood matron who is living the American dream. Thirty-nine years old, she has a successful television-producer husband, a tastefully furnished home, and two uninteresting children. She lives the rich full life of the West Los Angeles housewife: she shops, she goes to lunch in restaurants, she plays bridge, she takes extension courses at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in an attempt to learn “what life is all about.” She is also the type of woman who takes the labels off two hundred cans for her son’s school drive, forgetting that she will not know what is in them. She belongs to sufficiently vague and universal causes such as the World Hunger Project and Mothers for Peace, and she does not buy silk because the Cambodians suffer so much.

Garnet sees all of West Los Angeles filled with women who have beautiful homes, a husband, kids, and an opportunity to go back to school. They have that and nothing more—but they are safe. That was Garnet’s reason for getting married, and it was the safest thing she could do. With all she possesses though, Garnet senses that there is something to life that she is missing. She feels locked...

(The entire section is 1059 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 14)

Best Sellers. XLI, October, 1981, p. 250.

Kirkus Reviews. XLIX, July 15, 1981, p. 899.

Library Journal. CVI, October 15, 1981, p. 2050.

The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVI, October 18, 1981, p. 15.

Newsweek. XCVIII, October 5, 1981, p. 81.

Publishers Weekly. CCXX, August 7, 1981, p. 66.