cover image The Longings of Women

The Longings of Women

Marge Piercy. Fawcett Books, $22 (455pp) ISBN 978-0-449-90907-2

Piercy's ( Gone to Soldiers ) latest novel is one of her best: like all her work, it's a well-crafted and compelling narrative, and it also deftly illuminates a timely theme. In unpretentious but quietly forceful prose, she portrays three memorable women from different backgrounds whose lives plausibly and poignantly intersect. The three heroines are Leila, a middle-aged Boston college professor and writer; her long-suffering and secretly homeless 60-ish housekeeper Mary; and Becky, an ambitious young wife accused of murdering her husband and who is the subject of Leila's new book. All three face problems typical of women ill-used by men and by society: trying to fill the role of the ``good wife''; financial dependency; the low regard accorded older women; and the difficulties of morganatic marriages. Especially wrenching is Piercy's limning of the modest middle-class aspirations of the average woman and the precariousness of a sense of self-worth that is dependent on others. Moving back and forth among her protagonists, Piercy maintains a suspenseful narrative drive which leads to a rending climax. If the ending is a bit implausible, her readers won't hold it against Piercy; in this book she airs subjects of importance not only to women but to the society that encompasses them. 75,000 first printing; $75,000 ad/promo; Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club alternate; author tour. (Mar.)