Solstice is really a novel about its two main characters. It is a study of a codependent relationship and how each party deals with the relationship. Sheila Trask is an abuser of drugs and alcohol and also an abuser of Monica Jensen. Sheila indulges in violent mood swings and remains private and secretive throughout the novel, but she insists on Monica’s consistent cheeriness and willingness to share her thoughts and feelings. Because Sheila is so secretive, the reader never really learns what her true feelings are for Monica. However, she manipulates Monica by appearing to be interested in her. She also manipulates Monica by her constant talk of suicide and of the “mirror-ghoul” that stares back at her from the mirror, reminding her of her own mortality. At times, it seems that without Monica, Sheila would kill herself or become violently ill from refusing to take care of herself, but eventually, the reader discovers that the exact opposite is true. Sheila is in control, and it is Monica who is unable to take care of herself.
Although Monica never openly acknowledges the fact, it is clear that Sheila takes more of an interest in her than her husband (or any man) ever did, and that interest is what Monica craves; she vehemently desires to be liked. She thinks of herself as a “golden girl” and frequently recalls her younger days in high school and college, when she was a cheerleader and sorority girl who was very popular. She basks in Sheila’s interest in her, although she can never quite figure out why Sheila is interested; she is not an intellectual, and her life is fairly mundane. Monica fears that Sheila will suddenly discover these facts and will no longer like her.
Indeed, it seems that Monica defines herself by Sheila’s interest. It is only when Sheila goes away to Africa that Monica seeks out activities on her own; even then, these activities are determined by what she thinks others view as appropriate activities. She does things to be interesting rather than because she is interested in them. In fact, she finds the activities exhausting, but she continues with them until Sheila returns and once again provides a definition for Monica. For Monica, the mirror-ghoul is not her own mortality but the shallowness of her life. Deep down, she knows that she does not define herself, yet she is never able to face this fact and determine her own identity. Instead, she becomes violently ill, and she is saved only by Sheila’s curiosity.
Monica Jensen, the protagonist and viewpoint character. Nearly thirty years old and recently divorced, she bears a tiny scar on her jaw as a reminder of her failed marriage of nine years. She has undergone an abortion. To obliterate her past, she takes a position teaching English at an elite preparatory school, the Glenkill Academy for Boys in rural Pennsylvania. She rents an old farmhouse that she plans to refurbish, just as she seeks to remake her life. Cherishing her solitude, she works to the point of exhaustion, preparing courses and helping students while devoting weekends to household repair. Monica is self-absorbed, diffident, conscientious, and sensible. The blonde woman was once called a “golden girl,” an epithet that reverberates throughout the novel but one she often questions. Her desire is to recover her calm and stability.
Sheila Trask, a nonrepresentational painter of minor renown and widow of a famed sculptor. One of many artists scattered in Glenkill, Sheila lives at Edgemont, her country estate a few miles from Monica’s farmhouse. Physically and emotionally in contrast to Monica, Sheila is tall and lanky with olive skin, black hair, and gypsy eyes. Her temperament is stormy; she is given to manic mood swings. She is rumored to experiment with drugs and alcohol. She suffers bouts of artist’s block and depression, but when energized, she paints with compulsive fury. Often she appears untidy and soiled. Sheila sends ambiguous gender signals. Stalking about in boots and smelling of horses and sweat, cigarettes, and turpentine, she exudes an air of swaggering masculinity, but she can also present herself as seductively feminine. Sheila makes the first overtures to Monica, brusquely invading her privacy. Against her will, Monica finds Sheila’s eccentricity, talent, and aggressive bids for attention to be irresistible.
Harold Bell, Monica’s former husband. He pushed her during a quarrel, and she cut her jaw. With shame and embarrassment, Monica reflects on his fussy self-importance. He does not appear in the novel, but twice he sends her letters, which she ignores.
Morton Flaxman, Sheila’s deceased husband, who had been a sculptor. He exists as a remembered presence and is the novel’s only appealing male character. His cryptic sculpture Solstice stands on the Glenkill campus. Monica studies his photograph, noting his strength, sensuality, and fatherliness and envying what she assumes was Sheila’s exciting marriage.
Keith Renwick, a lawyer who takes Monica to dinner. Athletic and courteous, he shows a sinister side with his library on weaponry and survivalist techniques.
Jackson Winthrop, a sketchily drawn guest at a party hosted by Sheila. He invites Monica out and rapes her.
Jill Starkie, the meddlesome wife of Glenkill’s chaplain. Comically portrayed, Jill dresses like a teenager to play a sisterly role to her daughters. She provides Monica’s chief link to the social community, inviting her to parties where guests ridicule the quirks of local artists, notably Sheila. Jill patronizes Monica at first but drops her when Monica persists in her friendship with the bizarre Sheila.
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