Places: Other Women

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1984

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: Early 1980’s

Places DiscussedLake Glass Therapy Center

Lake Other WomenGlass Therapy Center. Place where Caroline has lengthy therapy sessions with Hannah Burke that develop the major themes of the novel. Noting the brown tweed couch, bookshelves, photographs of children, and poorly tended fern in Hannah’s office, Caroline initially believes she cannot be helped in such a shallow, comfortable, conventionally suburban atmosphere. However, the sign on Hannah’s office door, “Thank you for shutting up while I smoke,” is indicative of Hannah’s refreshing honesty and self-acceptance–characteristics that the unconventional and rebellious Caroline lacks. During sessions that take place over several months, Caroline eventually recognizes not only her inability to be truthful with herself, but also the presence of suffering everywhere. In the office, Caroline discovers that the apparently comfortable and secure Hannah has suffered the loss of parents to abandonment and death and the loss of two children to accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.

Caroline Kelly’s home

Caroline Kelly’s home. Cabin near Lake Glass. Caroline shares the cabin with Diana and her daughter Sharon, occupying the first floor with her sons, Jackie and Jason. Caroline’s on-again, off-again relationship with Diana, indicative of her confused sexual identity, and her frustrations as a single mother, are dramatized in the cozy cabin. Beside Caroline’s bed stands a loom where Caroline weaves shawls that she sells in a Lake Glass retail shop, her handwoven materials revealing the work she does throughout the novel with the strands of her psyche.

Hannah Burke’s home

Hannah Burke’s home. Yellow Victorian house outside Lake Glass that Hannah shares with her husband, Arthur. The home is comfortable, suburban, and safe, but it, too, was a place of suffering when a carbon monoxide leak killed two of the Burkes’ children. The home reveals the novel’s vision of suffering, which arises in every place on the planet and affects everyone, including the affluent.

Mass General Hospital

Mass General Hospital. Hospital in which Caroline works as an emergency room nurse and has daily contacts with suffering, particularly of the innocent: people injured in automobile accidents, women and children abused by men, families affected by natural disasters and accidents in their homes.

Lake Glass

Lake Glass. Fictional New Hampshire town north of Boston, Massachusetts. Originally created as an outpost for fur traders and loggers, Lake Glass turned industrial in the mid-twentieth century with the development of factories, and was infused with new money in the 1960’s and 1970’s as a summer resort for the wealthy of Boston. The picturesque lake teems with wildlife but is also a place of destruction, as when Caroline helplessly watches a man commit suicide there. The novel opens with a description of a wintry Lake Glass and ends with details of summer life, revealing the thawing and opening to new life that Caroline has experienced.

BibliographyEvans, Nancy. “Lives of Caroline.” The New York Times Book Review, November 11, 1984, 26. Points to a lack of humor and originality, but with praise for the characterization.King, Francis. “Hannah and Caroline.” The Spectator 254, no. 8174 (March 9, 1985): 23. A friendly reading of Other Women, pointing out the solidity of Alther’s depiction of psychotherapy and lamenting the novel’s lack of humor.Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher. Review of Other Women, by Lisa Alther. The New York Times, December 10, 1984, C16. Takes issue with Alther’s negative depiction of the men in her heroine’s life and argues that the case for psychotherapy is overstated.Oktenberg, Adrian. “Odd Couple.” New Directions for Women 14, no. 1 (January/February, 1985): 17-20. Regards Other Women as the most successful of Alther’s novels, praising it for its reverberations and accuracy in depicting a successful relationship between women.Peel, Ellen. “Subject, Object, and the Alternation of First-and Third-Person Narration in Novels by Alther, Atwood, and Drabble.” Critique 30, no. 2 (1989): 107-122. Places Alther in the company of other distinguished women novelists and discusses the techniques of her fiction.
Categories: Places