Set in Philadelphia, This Side of Married by Rachel Pastan tells the story of three women and their domineering mother. Pressured by their family matriarch, Dr. Evelyn Rubin, to find a mate, get married, and become mothers themselves, each of the sisters rebels in her own way.
Although Evelyn herself chose to become a doctor, she is fixated on her daughters fitting into conventional gender roles as wives and mothers. She fears that Alice, her thirty-eight-year-old eldest daughter, is on a fast track to spinsterhood. Her youngest daughter, twenty-nine-year-old Tina, is a serial dater who simply refuses to settle down. Isabel, the thirty-three-year-old middle daughter, has a husband (whom she is second-guessing) but no baby despite her full-time efforts. Evelyn is simply distraught. There is a ray of hope for Evelyn when her friend's son, Anthony Wolfe, takes notice of Alice. Suddenly, as Evelyn's fortieth wedding anniversary approaches, she is optimistic that her girls will finally move forward.
Evelyn is described in the novel as "sentimental and tactless," and her demeanor is likened to "a steamroller and a puppy at once, a particularly irritating and formidable combination." Readers will take pity on the sisters' father, Judge Rubin, who has to endure his wife's tireless efforts to meddle in her daughters' lives. Readers will also relate to the overwhelming annoyance the daughters experience at their mother's relentless interference.
Pastan provides a virtual tour of Philadelphia with her vivid descriptions of the City of Brotherly Love. Equally impressive is Pastan's descriptions of some of the supporting characters. Take, for example, Soren Zank, the half-Swedish, half-Jewish distant relative who seems to have a grand scheme in mind for all three of the Rubin sisters. Marco Pena, the Rubins' gardener, is portrayed as colorful as the gardens he tends.
An homage to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and other novels of domestic manners, Pastan's This Side of Married takes a wholly modern look at the age-old dilemmas presented by family dynamics, love, and marriage. Pastan is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and has won the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award.