Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Women and Men deconstructs traditional narrative structure through a variety of techniques. McElroy employs inner monologues in which characters battle with their own consciousness, ruminate on past events, and speculate about a sometimes foreboding future as it is impacted by technological and scientific advancements. The issue of such advancements is at the heart of the novel, at times a direct threat to intimacy, at times a challenge to communication and self-comprehension. Murkily defined “voices” repeat throughout the narrative, while others surface only once as they function in a point-counterpoint manner to spin long missives about many issues including nuclear war, space travel, urban and rural American life, and the joys and dilemmas of men and women.

While Women and Men concerns itself with the intangibility of closeness and the personal fragmentation of life in cities, the book ultimately manages to offer an optimistic, although enormously complex, portrait of modern life as history impinges on and molds the present. In James Mayn, one finds a man unable to dream and haunted by a failed marriage. With a mind as troubled as it is able to absorb and process vast amounts of information (so much so that the effect is overwhelming), Mayn travels back and forth from the future to the present and so into the past. Time itself is a malleable element, fixed or pliant as it is imagined to be.