Women and Men

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

On 60 MINUTES, a scientist explains how an ill-conceived Brazilian superhighway, cutting through hundreds of miles of rain forest, may adversely affect the climate of the entire Earth. Planetary interconnectedness is a fact of everyday life in the late twentieth century, a new reality that requires a new way of seeing. WOMEN AND MEN embodies this experience of intricate interaction--climatic, economic, political, and otherwise--as perhaps no previous novel has done.

At the same time, as his title indicates, McElroy’s subject is the relation between women and men. While the novel ranges back to the nineteenth century and ahead to an unspecified extraplanetary future, it is largely set in New York in the mid-1970’s, a time of conflict and consciousness-raising concerning sexual roles. The two principal characters--Grace Kimball, a feminist guru, and James Mayn, a journalist--are a woman and a man who, although unacquainted, live in the same apartment building and are linked by an elaborate network of coincidence. The crisscrossing narratives of their lives are broken at intervals by short, self-contained chapters which document how it was between women and men in this time of change; one such chapter, “the future,” centers on a divorced woman and her young son, while another, “rent,” centers on a man and his young daughter. Finally, there is a third group of chapters, again at intervals throughout the book, commenting on the action from the...

(The entire section is 499 words.)