Susan Cheever Eric Goldstein - Essay

Eric Goldstein

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In this messy, lifeless little novel [Looking for Work], Salley Potter joins the hordes of educated, half-liberated heroines stumbling toward fulfillment, Upper East Side-New York style. Starting with her ill-considered betrothal in the mid-1960s, Salley narrates the slow breakup of her marriage, several affairs and her constant search for writing jobs.

Looking for Work is an autobiographical novel in the worst possible way: the characters are vague, half-realized creatures, lost amid the blandly reconstituted furniture of Ms. Cheever's own life. Details are altered—for example, Salley's rich, famous, WASPy, intellectual father is a Comp-Lit professor instead of a writer—but whether it's fact, fiction or faction matters little when everything is so sketchy….

The real-life celebrities that drop into Ms. Cheever's first novel are merely props in a story that languishes in a no man's land between fiction and memoir—lacking the imagination of the former and the required discipline of the latter.

Salley is neither witty and engaging like Isadora Wing in Fear of Flying, nor irresistibly neurotic like the Diane Keaton character in Manhattan. A woman who is calm, vulnerable and yearning is meant to emerge from Looking for Work's sketchy vignettes, but the insipid narrative voice she is given makes her often sound stupid and bloodless. Salley's descriptive powers are meager: parties she takes us to are "chic," the guests at them "eccentric." Although the repeated use of "and" plus lots of incomplete sentences aim to convey the texture of Salley's emotions, the result is trite and muddy….

Eric Goldstein, "Heeding the Wrong Calling," in The New Leader (© 1980 by the American Labor Conference on International Affairs, Inc.), Vol. LXIII, No. 4, February 25, 1980, p. 20.