In The Underground Woman, Boyle’s last novel, the author characteristically draws upon her own experiences for her basic framework. Like her heroine, Athena Gregory, Boyle was jailed for participating in a demonstration against the war in Vietnam; likewise, her daughter rejected her family and joined a religious cult; similarly, Boyle was a professor at a San Francisco university.
The book opens with Athena and fifteen other protesters in a patrol wagon on their way to jail because they blocked the entrance of an induction center. Slightly more than half the book is taken up with Athena’s observations of the personalities and actions of three groups of women: her fellow demonstrators, the long-term prisoners, and those who work in the jail. Boyle describes in detail the routine of the monotonous days, the vile food, the various jobs the prisoners are given, and their ugly clothing. She learns about the oppression of black and Latina women and is confirmed in her conviction that older people must share the responsibility of all Americans to fight for liberty and justice for everyone.
The second part of the book finds Athena returning home after her ten-day stay in jail. Again she experiences a kind of imprisonment, as her home has been taken over by members of the cult of Pete the Redeemer. Her daughter, Melanie, is not among them, and Athena feels sure that their promise of her return is false. With the help of a black neighbor,...
(The entire section is 510 words.)