Solstice

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Monica Jensen, emerging from marriage at age twenty-nine, wants to establish her own life and discover her own tastes: She teaches in a private school, enjoys the labor of fixing up a house, and likes her privacy and sense of control. The novel’s action traces her friendship with Sheila Trask, a fairly well-known painter and accomplished horsewoman. Sheila’s energy, disorder, and passion add life to Monica’s existence but force her to question her ideal of control and self-sufficiency.

Several recent novels by Joyce Carol Oates imitate (and thus enrich and question) popular genres of women’s fiction. SOLSTICE uses the contemporary formula of a woman finding herself after divorce, but it refuses to supply conventional satisfactions. The myth of the labyrinth, the subject of Sheila Trask’s paintings, provides the book’s dominant image, and the plot is structured by twists, repetitions, and increasing narrative disorientation. As Monica Jensen turns inward, the terrible monster at the center of the labyrinth may be glimpsed as vacancy (has Monica a “self” to find?), sexual desire for a woman (which Monica cannot face), or the ideology that love may be won by nurture and emotional support. Or, is the monster Sheila Trask herself--the immature, self-centered, tormented artist who is a common romantic stereotype?

SOLSTICE is a relatively short book, which begins with a clear narrative, interesting characters, and entertaining...

(The entire section is 561 words.)