Roxanna Slade Summary
by Reynolds Price

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Roxanna Slade Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

This is Price’s first novel since Kate Vaiden to be written from a female perspective. Roxanna Slade was born in 1900. Readers first meet her when she is twenty and living in a small North Carolina town, and they continue their relationship with her until she is ninety-four, the age at which she unfolds her long, complex story. Roxanna’s life has been filled with trials, and, although at ninety-four she is quite removed from them in time, they molded the woman whom Price has created.

The novel’s seven chapters are arranged chronologically. Some of them cover an act of such drama that the chapter is confined to one crucial day. Other chapters cover several years as Price telescopes Roxanna’s experience. Price structures the chapters to reflect how Roxanna views the patterns of her life.

Some of Roxanna’s trials will be familiar to readers of Price’s short stories, in which a number of them had their genesis. Roxanna endured a horrible tragedy when the first man she truly loved drowned before her eyes. Having recovered from this catastrophe, Roxanna married, only to suffer the loss of a child. Then she was made aware of her husband’s infidelities. While these events are relatively commonplace, and not unlike troubles that may have perplexed Price’s readers in their own lives, Roxanna reveals her true strength of character and her fortitude through her rendition of these misfortunes. As the millennium approached, Price chose to comment on American society from the vantage point of a woman who lived through what might be called “the century of women.” The suggestion is that in the upcoming century, women should come into their own quite fully, having made the initial gains they did in the 1900’s.

Price makes it clear that Roxanna has learned to live with disappointment without being embittered by it. She frequently has had cause for anger, but in the wisdom of her years, she has learned to channel this anger to the point that it evaporates. She does not dwell on her regrets and, even at ninety-four, considers life a blessing rather than the curse that many people living through similar experiences might deem it to be. The pervasive theme that emerges from this book is that love is the counterbalancing force in a seemingly chaotic universe.