Thursday, December 28, 2017

Review: Other Men's Daughters

Other Men's Daughters Other Men's Daughters by Richard Stern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"By the time you're my age, [love is] but a combination of lust and nostalgia."
At first glance, I was feeling a bit over this book. Not another novel about a middle aged professor tiring of his life and taking up with a younger, freer woman. How many of those are there, anyway? And what would make NYRB republish this one if better known novelists have done it and kept in the spotlight?
"The last few years I've felt a terrific drive in [women.] They want, they want, and it's we not-quite-graybeards who give them the most the quickest. We teach them, we spend on them, we show them off, we tell them what everything means. We're their Graduate School."
But it isn't just about that. It's about that conflict between traditional and the "new" (late 60s, early 70s), living your whole life based on external expectations even if you're miserable or daring to see what might be beyond that, and then suffering the very real consequences of breaking up a family.
"For years now, as his marriage unglued, Merriweather was conscious of the marital 'we.' He thought of it as an American shield against suspicion (of loneliness, debauchery, homosexuality, eccentricity.) 'We went,' 'We saw,' 'Josie and I,' "Jeanne and I.' Was it a proud flag of dependence or did the connubial pair exist only as a pair, as colonial animals exist only as colonies?"
Even when a family is only stable on paper, that's still more stable than it becomes when it is torn apart, relocated and separated. I think Stern captures this well and doesn't pass judgement on the characters, although the men are overly (for my tastes) focused on the physical appearance of all the female characters in the novel, and often use them as reasons for doing or not doing things. I suppose this was the norm in the 70s, but it is jarring.
"I feel about her the way Galileo did about the telescope. My feelings for her enlarge my feelings for other things."
In fact I'm finding I have similar feelings to my reactions to Revolutionary Road. Do I even like this book? I think it is well-written and captures a lot of complexity. But the men see the women only by what they get from them. It is decades away from partnership, that's for sure. Who wouldn't keep looking for something more?
"Maybe human beings who love each other should only present their best face to each other, saving their miseries for silence, dark and the pillow."

Thanks to the publisher for providing access to a copy before its republication date through Edelweiss, and then providing me an additional copy when my review copy would not function properly.
Published 29 August, 2017, by New York Review of Books.

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