Time and Tide

Hosmer, Robert E. Jr.

DOWN & OUT IN LIFE TINE AND TIDE Edna O'Brien Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $21, 326 pp. Robert E. Hosmer, Jr. ike Milton's elegy "Lycidas," Edna O'Brien's latest novel, Time and Tide, is a haunting...

...In the course of the narrative, which moves with effortless interiority from past to present, we learn Nell's story: an early marriage to Walter, an older, tyrannical, and abusive man whose idea of a Christmas gift is a postcard inscribed "Happy Nothing...
...ROBERT E. HOSMER, JR., teaches in the department of English language and literature at Smith College...
...You can bear it,' the silence said, because that is all there is, this now that then, this present that past, this life this death, and the involuntary shudder that keeps reminding us we are alive...
...She thinks "in secret of a man who would come and whisk her to altitudes of happiness...
...TIMOTHY S. PRINZ teaches political science at the University of Virginia...
...pale sanctuary devoid at last of all consolations...
...23 October 1992 fering but to her final affirmation: '"I can bear it,' she said, and looked around at the air so harmless, so flaccid, and so still, a stillness such as she had not known since it had happened, or maybe ever...
...ike Milton's elegy "Lycidas," Edna O'Brien's latest novel, Time and Tide, is a haunting water poem, a heartfelt elegy engendered by the two most powerful human emotions: love and loss...
...Lovers fail...
...When Nell finally summons the courage to tell her mother how she feels, the results are catastrophic for both...
...Nell first appears musing as she tries frantically to prevent her second son's departure from home: "What could she do now to retrieve things...
...WILSON CAREY McWILLIAMS teaches political science at Rutgers University...
...Children fail...
...Her dealings with her mother are bruising battles: with extraordinary aptness, Nell converts experience to resonant metaphor when she selects an egg, "shell-less, soft as any placenta, its bruised-ness a resemblance of us," as emblematic of their relationship...
...O'Brien's achievement in Time and Tide is so extraordinary that this eleventh novel may well eclipse the previous ten, even her first, The Country Girls (1960...
...That illness marks the beginning of a painful shift in consciousness as Nell begins to learn the lesson Anita Brookner has discerned in O'Brien's fiction, "no compensation for the loss of the mother is possible...
...one evening, as she plows through a pile she happens on one of particular interest...
...Time and Tide is the story of Nell Steadman, a middle-aged woman from the west of Ireland, long resident in London...
...Nell is a classically divided consciousness, torn between restraint and reckless abandon, between self-immolation and self-indulgence, between death and life...
...In the stillness there was silence, but there was no word for that yet because it was so new...
...What does one do with hate...
...The pain and the pleasure of the text reside in our intimate access not only to Nell Steadman's suf26...
...all the men in the world could not replace the original closeness...
...Read Time and Tide and know what it is to surrender to a courageous and honest writer of fiction...
...LEE SIEGEL is a free-lance writer living in New York City...
...and finally the story of her losing both sons, one to the Thames, the other to a young, pregnant woman...
...God fails What's left...
...The two women agree about nothing, and the level of their combat is mortal...
...her chaotic life as a single mother caring for two children with no support from their father...
...To the writer, Nell offers advice that O'Brien herself seems to have taken to heart: "You have to be near to it to tell it, and then you have to go very far away from it to give it that enchantment that distance bestows, the infallibility of the gods...no one else can do it but you...Think only of big things, Millie, big, sad, lonely, glorious, archetypal things...
...Only here the waters swirl not just in a mighty river but also within the human am-nion, for this is a book about what is likely the most dangerous of human activities: mothering...
...She thought of rushing down the stairs to his bedroom with as normal a manner as artifice can manage and asking, 'Would you like a cup of tea?'" His departure, which she cannot forestall, is the last in a series of painful, unresolved separations...
...At her very center lies a most acute absence: Nell has never had the kind of vital, osmotic, and nurturing connection with her mother that characterizes the original, amniotic bonding between mother and child...
...Yet, though men continually fail her, she clings to a sacral-romantic vision ("it was as if she had learned nothing and still believed in tran-substantiation through another"), until she suffers a complete nervous collapse...
...His book The Changing American Mind was published by the University of Michigan Press...
...Commonweal...
...Time and Tide is a fiction of female development...
...One manówhether actor, director, greengrocer, shopkeeper, or sonówill do it, must do it, she feels...
...James Joyce described his play "Exiles" as "an extravagant excursion into forbidden territory...
...Nell Steadman comes to perceive more about her mother as she plumbs the depths of her own experience...
...At the very end, Nell experiences a Joycean moment: "Everything radiant for a moment, as if she reached, or was reached, beyond the boundaries of herself...
...Marriage fails...
...her separation from him and the brutal battle for custody of their two sons, Paddy and Tristan...
...Nell longs for a man to rescue her: she is ever vulnerable, sometimes ludicrously so, as when she falls for a man who inscribes "Let us see the Northern lights together" on a matchbook cover...
...After assuming custody of her children, Nell works for a publisher, often taking manuscripts home with her...
...Edna O'Brien's latest novel is that and more...
...This novel could only have been written by a woman, and one feels that O' Brien has more than a speaking acquaintance with the surging forces that shape this story...
...Nell Steadman' s pain is exacerbated by the absence of that original closeness: she seeks what she has never had, and the results, at least in the short term, are disastrous...
...her own lately held conclusion about the nature of motherhood shocks both Nell and the reader: "What pretty names we give to the carnivorousness that is called mother...
...Near the end of the novel, as Nell begins to pull things together, she articulates the great questions she now knows have preoccupied her: "What does one do with grief...
...WILLIAM G. MAYER is an assistant professor of political science at Northeastern University in Boston...

Vol. 119 • October 1992 • No. 18


 
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