Sue Ellen Bridgers Joan L. Atkinson - Essay

Joan L. Atkinson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Your reviewer's treatment of Sue Ellen Bridgers' Notes for Another Life [see excerpt above by Janet French] … so simplified a complex work that it makes the book sound like an issues novel. Far from being a "propaganda vehicle for female domesticity," Notes … says that family life is multi-faceted—a mix of love and loss, of responsibilities accepted and rejected, of forces controllable and out of hand, of disappointment and support. Kevin and Wren's mother, Karen, wants both emotional and physical distance from her children, apparently their father does too, though his mental illness obscures the distinction between what is willed on his part and what is fated by heredity. The novel does not assign blame to either parent or grandparent. It makes a case for learning to live with whatever losses can't be recouped.

Kevin at one point opts for giving up, for suicide. He sheds tears—isn't it OK for a boy to cry in anger over his helplessness? His sister Wren is the stronger sibling. While Kevin wonders what to believe in, Wren believes in music, in love and in herself. Her characterization belies the reviewer's statement that "Good women subordinate their talents and yearnings to the home and their children." In the book's terms, Wren is a "good" woman who's going to develop her talent…. To me the book says that both men and women struggle to find that delicate balance between self-actualization and care for the meaningful others in their lives. But its more important message is that people need inner resources, stamina and will to live fully.

Joan L. Atkinson, "Mote in the Eye," in School Library Journal (reprinted from the January, 1982 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1982), Vol. 28, No. 5, January, 1982, p. 57.