Picks and Pans Review: Solstice

updated 03/18/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/18/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Joyce Carol Oates

The best that one can say about Oates' newest novel is that, thank goodness, it is not another of her imitations of Victorian gothics, and it is of reasonable length. The story is about two exceedingly neurotic women who inflict all sorts of meaningless pain on each other in the name of friendship. The heroine is Monica Jensen, a pretty 29-year-old divorcee, who takes a job at a prep school for boys in rural Pennsylvania. She is befriended by the area's legend, the widow of a famous sculptor, who is herself a well-known painter. All the right names of important painters and sculptors are dropped, but too much of the talk is precious chatter about abstract art—the sort of vague blather that causes heavy drinking at cocktail parties. The most puzzling episode in the book is one in which the two women, who certainly ought to know better, take silly assumed names and go slumming in roadside taverns and bowling alleys, flirting with rough men. While there are suggestions that some erotic electricity exists between the women, nothing comes of it. The artist is the sort of character who can ask, "Of what value was a novel...if one couldn't live through it?—if it were only a matter of words skillfully arranged?" In a week or two, when her next novel is published, perhaps Oates' words will be more skillfully arranged. (Dutton, $15.95)

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