(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The central theme of this novel is the mystery of human relationships. People never really know or understand others, much less themselves, the story suggests, and all human connections must be based on a leap of faith. Neither people nor human emotions can really be understood. Sometimes, trusting such mysterious connections leads to strong, mutually fulfilling relationships, but sometimes this trust is misplaced and relationships lead to separation, hurt, and even death. The problem of determining when to trust and when to protect oneself faces both women and men, this novel suggests, but men have more difficulty taking the leap into relationships.

Hoffman raises this theme of the uncertainty of relationships and human behavior in her short history of Bethany’s marriage to Randy early in the novel. Bethany thought that Randy was a caring, romantic man, but soon after their marriage, and in the course of just a few sentences of narrative, he is revealed as a distant, even violent husband. The idea that people cannot trust relationships to last or people to behave consistently is also presented when Hoffman describes Verity as “home to more divorced women from New York than any other town in the state of Florida.” The very setting of the novel, then, underscores the problem of establishing lasting relationships.

Even good relationships between men and women are uncertain, Hoffman suggests, because the people involved do not always understand their own feelings. She describes the attraction between Lucy and Julian as something that neither comprehends but that neither can avoid. The narration suggests that some instinct draws the two characters together. When they first make love, both are described as feeling out of control, and as their relationship continues, both act on emotions they neither understand nor believe will last. Their relationship does not make sense, but it is powerful nevertheless.

The difficulty of understanding relationships arises in other connections within the novel, too. Keith’s relationships with the baby and with Arrow develop this theme clearly. When Keith first picks up the baby, he is acting on instinct. He does not know why he believes that he must protect her, but he does, and he soon finds that the child clings to him and depends upon him to provide food and water. He becomes quite protective of her and he cannot bring himself to leave her, even after she is safe at Miss...

(The entire section is 1000 words.)