Susan Richards Shreve Eileen Kennedy - Essay

Eileen Kennedy

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["A Fortunate Madness" shares the characteristics of a spate of novels which have] appeared lately. Written by talented young women who have starred in creative writing classes taught by distinguished practitioners of the craft, these novels, thinly veiled autobiographies, perhaps, have as their characters: (1) a sensitive, brusque, truthful, attractive young woman who wars with her mother and affluent middle-class values; (2) lean, studiously literary husband who does not communicate with creative wife; (3) one child, the pulled wishbone in the husband-wife battle. The locale of these novels: graduate school classes and faculty parties; seedy Thrift-Shop-furnished apartments; the compulsory year abroad (usually England) so that the conflict in values can be underlined; and, finally, the idyllic nature scene in which the revelation about life's meaning occurs. The style: overwhelming use of dialogue, especially stichomythia (the reader has to go back to figure out which character says what); familiar brand names (the toy from F.A.O. Schwartz, the dress from Lord & Taylor's); complete absence of value judgments; a cool hard tone hiding a quivering sensibility …

[Susan Shreve] has written a novel that some contemporary women may feel expresses them. The character of Susanna seems intimately portrayed, but the indistinguishable male characters are weakly drawn. Too many of the plot situations seem banal….

Despite my caveats, I liked many things in this novel. I just wish it had explored with greater depth and intensity the ethical problems it suggests. Somewhere Gabriel Marcel says that most of us live in concentric circles of selfishness and that if life is to have meaning, we must move out of those circles. That's the big lesson [the protagonist] Susanna has to learn, and the sentimental, bland ending doesn't convince me that she has moved even slightly.

Eileen Kennedy, "Fiction: 'A Fortunate Madness'," in Best Sellers (copyright 1974, by the University of Scranton), Vol. 34, No. 9, August 1, 1974, p. 212.