Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
Roman Catholic Church. Though not a specific place in the novel, the Church occupies a consuming place in Isabel’s home and in her mind. Matters of spirituality and faith dominate all conversations between her father and the priests who visit her home. Indeed, the very first line of the novel mentions that Isabel’s father’s funeral is full of priests. The Church represents authority, devotion, liturgy, guidelines, rules, and holiness. The Church occupies a central place in the life of Isabel’s father, and its characteristics engulf her life, too. Patriarchal and authoritative, the Church is sheltering, loving, demanding, and contemplative. It is the place and space in which Isabel is formed and the place that she must ultimately leave to avoid suffocation.
Ringkill. New York town, up the Hudson River from New York City, to which Isabel moves after her father dies. While visiting the home of her friend Liz Ryan, she finds Ringkill a place where there are mountains and water and a freshness that is not only in the air but in the newness of a different place. Liz also offers her something new–a relationship with a woman who is confident, independent, and individualistic. The prospect of these changes makes Ringkill a suitable setting for Isabel to change her life. There she takes a job with a social services agency surveying the arrangements of people who care for the elderly in their homes, a position that makes her look into a variety of homes, both loveless and loving. Simultaneously eager to experience life and made uncertain by her inexperience, she has an affair with Liz’s husband, John Ryan, and confronts her own needs and sexuality. She also has a second affair with another married man, Hugh Slade. While John represents power, Hugh represents authority, both of which defined Isabel’s life in her father’s house in Queens. Finally, in revulsion, she leaves both lovers to care for Margaret Casey in Ramona to do penance for her earlier behavior.
Ramona. Town five hours by bus from Ringkill that is home to Margaret Casey, the now elderly woman who kept house for Isabel and her father for eleven years after Isabel’s mother’s death, until Isabel fired her when she realized that the woman wanted to marry her father. Now anxious to atone, Isabel goes to Ramona to take care of Margaret. There, however, she experiences loss, change, and feelings of servitude. She is demeaned and debilitated by a self-centered, old, and angry Margaret. Only time and introspection and acceptance of herself as a worthy person allow Isabel to leave the coldness of Ramona and return to the life she wants, devoid of guilt, trusting in love, valuing her friendships, and finally valuing herself.