Chief among Adams's themes is that of friendship and the love that comes with it. The convoluted ties between the five coeds, first brought together by proximity and chance, are alternately cemented or fractured by Megan's compassionate warmth or by Lavinia's brittle self-centeredness. Betrayal and deceit prevail as misogynistic domineering Adam Marr nearly destroys whatever autonomy Janet develops. Lavinia seduces Henry as a way of displaying her contempt for Megan, and Janet's priest rejects the emotional demands of his relationship with Janet and her child. Some of the strongest relationships are between heterosexual woman and gay men, and the only longterm romantic relationship seems to be that between Peg and Vera.

The love between men and women, in fact, survives and thrives only if combined with strong friendship, as that of Henry and Megan; it dies when based on self-indulgent romanticism, as that of Henry and Lavinia. Love also dies in marriage when one partner is dominated by the other, or when the marriage is a function of social form alone, where partners "not expecting much ... by way of companionship, much less rapport . . . can probably remain serenely married forever, to almost anyone." Adams's critique of bourgeois marriage in these eras is strong. No marriage is good, and Janet and Peg survive only by escaping its clutches. Sex, however, is another matter; Adams's frank handling of erotic elements, and her use of sexuality as the means of expression for a range of compelling and vital needs in her characters, is a mainstay of the novel. Peg is brought back to life by her relationship with Vera, and it is only by her sojourn in Hawaii with Jackson Clay—and a lot of drugs—that Megan can experience the metaphorical disintegration of the self ("time of true derangement") in that lush, totally uninhibited environment which can bring her spirit back after Cathy's death. And since all the characters are in their fifties at the...

(The entire section is 542 words.)