At the height of campus unrest over Vietnam, Brian Tate, the conventional, politically moderate, foreign policy professor at Corinth (clearly Ithaca), has an office affair with his blonde graduate student, Wendy, but only after the vapid flower-child has pursued him relentlessly for months. Brian’s wife, Erica, learns of his infidelity when she reads Wendy’s ungrammatical but explicit letter.

Miserable at home with their two shockingly difficult adolescent children, Erica is unemployed because Brian disapproves of her working. She confronts him; Wendy apologizes to her; Brian lies; Wendy is forced to have an abortion; Brian moves out; Wendy moves in; Erica grows thin and ages prematurely. She takes up with an old friend who has become a wan new-age ’guru,’ but he is often impotent.

Wendy becomes pregnant again, terrifying Brian into believing he must marry her. But she spares him this punishment by moving to a California commune with Ralph, who, unlike Brian, does not care about biological origin of her child. Hoping to return, Brian visits Erica; she is expecting him with wary resignation.


With its gentle humour and earthy wisdom, this novel, about an academic couple facing separation, could stand as a companion piece for Lurie’s first novel, Love and Friendship (see annotation). This time, however, it is the husband who has the affair, not the wife. Rife with the language and sentiments of the late 1960s, it explores the dilemma of people raised within post-war values as they confront the new realities of birth control, feminism, and sexual tolerance. Around the Tate’s country home, bulldozers advance the encroachment of a vast modern suburbia that threatens their way of life.

Told more from Erica’s perspective than Brian’s, Lurie nevertheless brings her penetrating powers of observation to both sides of the self-justifying, bellicose psychodynamics of adultery, marriage, and parenting. The ’war’ metaphor is elegantly played out in a variety of domains: maneuvers between couples and their children, between the sexes, between students and professors, between town and gown, between imperialists everywhere and their colonized victims. Wendy’s love for Brian is a disease (p. 33); and a truce may be established after an affair but forgiveness comes at the expense of love and trust (p. 135).


First published: 1974



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