Susan Cheever Susan Kennedy - Essay

Susan Kennedy

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The history of a marriage begun in the bright, hopeful days of the 1960s and coming to grief in the sombre and choppy seas of the 1970s amid complaints that the wife's talents and career are being allowed to atrophy—this is familiar enough ground for a first novel today. But, despite appearances, Looking for Work is by no means a strident feminist tract. Political events of the day are mentioned only to identify the particular…. Its slightly self-deprecating air of good humour is in many ways closer to the Salinger-derived autobiographical novels of the 1950s and early 1960s….

Susan Cheever enlivens [the] well-trodden literary topography [of New York, Europe, and San Francisco] with some good descriptive writing; indeed, it is her unobtrusive technical assurance, her respect for the just use of words, that keeps the novel together. In a few skilfully juxtaposed images she vividly describes the eclecticism of San Francisco in the early 1970s.

It does not seem unfair to conclude that Salley wants to have her cake and eat it. Her efforts at looking for work are confined to badgering for interviews with Village Voice and Newsweek. She feels remarkably little compunction that her taste for good food and expensive clothes is maintained at Jason's expense. Susan Cheever writes with a professional journalist's eye for the circumstantial detail that delineates character. In this she reveals a delicate use of irony. It seems a pity that she has not made use of this same beam of irony to penetrate the deeper paradoxes of her characters' behaviour.

Susan Kennedy, "Naming Names," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1980; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 4013, February 22, 1980, p. 210.