Looking for Work

Rivers, Cheryl

Working it out LOOKING FOR WORK Susan Cheever Simon and Schuster, $8.95, 188 pp. Cheryl Rivers IN RECENT YEARS we have read numerous novels about young women who force themselves to adjust...

...We believe in her because her conflicts are real...
...we want to applaud.Still, for many chapters we have to suffer Salley's malaise and inertia...
...her belief in her characters allows us to believe in them and to care about their predicaments...
...Jane Austen's wonderful novels are still immensely popular with "liberated women" because in the end they always deliver eternal married bliss...
...Salley Gardens has engaged our affection...
...In order to live with Jason in New York, Salley has to give up something which isn't exactly desirable (a reporting job in Laramie, Wyoming) for something which may not be better...
...For years to come, psychologists and sociologists will probably discuss the conflicts and muddles that changing expectations have put on the female American psyche...
...Salley's last words, addressed directly to the reader are disappointingly coy: "But there is no going back and unraveling those old mistakes, although there are plenty of times now when I don't think I'll evef get married, or have children, or love anyone again in the wonderful simple he'11-take-care-of-me way that I loved Jason...
...Our irritation is thus an accolade to the writer who has created such a character and caused us to care about her like an old college roommate or an old, dear friend...
...Susan Cheever's novel, Looking for Work, then, belongs to a tradition of realism which sets itself the task of illuminating the way we all live now...
...Can she truly prefer to see herself still as a child-woman victim of luck, some bad, some good...
...The courtship and livingtogether part of Salley and Jason's relationship is imbued with uncertainty...
...Separation from him does not change this pattern...
...She plays with style, abruptly changing pace, mood, and vision...
...Her "Gee-whiz, look at little me...
...It used to be that women's fiction concentrated on the search for love, marriage and eternal happiness...
...She can hold her own in bed and in conversation with interesting men...
...We gather from Cheever's characters editors, writers, academics, artists Commonweal: 410 that creativity is what's important...
...She feels that Jason's competence and selfassurance (like Dad's) will be enough for both of them...
...Is Cheever afraid to let her character grow up...
...Yet for all of her powers of analysis and characterization, Cheever has somehow let us down...
...She has avoided turning her characters into parodies...
...Salley's sudden ability to turn her pursuit of men into articles for The Village Voice is just too slick: the search for love becomes the search for work...
...You also need work...
...Even if we hadn't read all those novels about such women, we would know the story, for such women are also very much a part of "real" life outside novels...
...I think Cheever is trying to show us the result of the pressures put on women to be superwomen who succeed at love, marriage, child-rearing, and work...
...When we first meet Salley, the child of privilege, she is falling into marriage with Jason, a writer-editor and the son of family friends...
...I'm not very tough, if you must know, but that's a secret...
...But Cheever is really a stronger writer than the use of such devices would imply...
...Or ever love again at all, really...
...These movie devices and as one reads, one looks forward to the movie version are fluent and gently revealing...
...She is capable of intimate, wry commentary and of showy descriptions of events as scenes from movies...
...To be sure, love is still nice, and ideally no woman should be without the love of a good man...
...Silvertone) without which no female bildungsroman can be convincing...
...When Salley asks about herself, "If she is so unhappy, why doesn't she get off her ass and do something about it...
...Scenes of happiness the only happy time of Salley's marriage to Jason must be remembered as slow-motion running on a beach...
...Not surprisingly, Salley receives no job offers and spends most of her time reading novels, musing, and not vacuuming her apartment...
...Her happy delusion doesn't last long...
...If her book is disappointing in the end, it is because we have become impatient with Salley Gardens' s dumbness...
...Her deus ex machina job and promotion at Newsweek, symbolizing finally a recognition of her intelligence and endurance, does not impress us as much as it does Salley herself...
...For long stretches of the book Salley is as boring and as irritating a character as recent fiction has produced...
...Having been a cub reporter on the Laramie Eagle doesn't quite get one the jobs Salley expects to have...
...Suddenly, she knows that she can't live through a man...
...From Max she learns that she can be more than a housewife, but she also learns that Max needs her to be the assured part of the partnership, and this means giving up a budding carrer in New York to go to California to be with Max...
...Looking for Work shows the transmutation or displacement of values which women have experienced in the last decade or so...
...And as we wait for the expert opinions on the superwomen of the seventies and eighties, we can read Looking for Work as an important analysis of the contemporary female psyche...
...She provides the psychiatrist scenes (with a Dr...
...Here we come to the supposed focus of the novel: work...
...In the meantime, she allows herself to be supported by Jason...
...In the gentleness we see what makes this novel different from many of the others about woman's fate in the world today...
...Moreover, Cheever's novel is an attractive contribution to what we have begun to recognize as a female realistic style in which brand names, store names, and restaurant names Cosmopolitan, Saks, Cartier, Tiffany, Erno Laslo, Johnny Walker Red serve as objective correlatives and mark the limits of the characters' lives...
...If Salley has learned anything, surely she has learned that getting what one wants is precisely what strength is...
...When the fashionable wedding party is soured by the weeping and pushing of Jason's daughters by a first marriage, Jason's self-possession evaporates...
...and Salley notes how she feels about this first betrayal: "His confusion made me sick.'' The rest of the marriage six years' worth is the tale of how Salley extricates herself from Jason and how she gains some confidence of her own...
...Salley's passionate, loving affair with Max Angelo, the famous and sophisticated sculptor, shows us that Salley has what it takes to stand up to men...
...Doesn't she want to believe in the character she created...
...Following the trends of the recent social novel, Cheever gives us the de rigueur contrasts of New York and California, adding to these mythologies acute observations and quick delineations of difference...
...Cheryl Rivers IN RECENT YEARS we have read numerous novels about young women who force themselves to adjust to husbands' careers, all the while feeling deprived of their own careers, and who, eventually and at great cost, leave their husbands to make it in the big city on their own talents...
...Cheever has given us a character who despite her growth still cannot see herself as deserving, capable, or smart...
...Thus, at several points throughout this novel, Salley sends out resumes and goes to interviews...
...Salley mopes around waiting for her creativity to be unleashed...
...To be sure, she lands on her own two feet in the end but despite herself...
...4 July 1980: 411...
...Salley's uncertainty, however, doesn't seem to her to be a reason against marriage...
...This cultural phenomenon is genuinely compelling...
...An entire chapter which takes place at the shore is life as if in one of those gauzy-lensed deodorant commercials, reminding us that we tend to see ourselves in the idioms that movies and television have provided...
...We want her to succeed and be happy...
...She learns that if you are a strong, intelligent, and self-respecting woman, love is not all you need...
...But what does she expect...
...Cheever's very real accomplishment in Looking for Work is the vividness with which she has observed the familiar plight of her heroine and the gentle affection with which she draws her cast of characters...
...Salley, in escaping mundane housewifery, the "burden" of babies, and the compromises of love, has fallen into a chic contemporaneity which Cheever doesn't convince us offers more...
...attitude is not the appropriate response to what she's been through...
...Cheever tells us that love, marriage, and even sex no longer have the redemptive qualities so widely advertised in popular culture, common sense, and our own psyches...

Vol. 107 • July 1980 • No. 13


 
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