Nearing her 40th birthday, Pauline Manford struggles over issues of love, marriage, fidelity and identity. Pauline Manford is estranged from her husband Dexter and heading for divorce. They reside in an affluent, insular suburban neighborhood, and from the outside all seems well. Their children are accomplished professionals; things are quiet at home. Yet the quiet bespeaks only tension, alienation and estrangement -- the qualities that plague Dexter and Pauline's relationship. The two never speak to one another, except to handle family business. They don't know what's going on in each other's lives. They're so estranged and indifferent toward on another that they never even argue. Pauline is sick of this stifled existence. She visits her mom for a few weeks in order to vent her frustrations and perhaps gain some insight or advise from her mom. her frustrations with her mother, and seeks her mother's advice.
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Pauline's mom advises her that her marriage is worth fighting for. She regrets own her divorce, and wishes she'd invested more in her marriage. Pauline returns home with mixed feelings: she respects her mom's opinion, but remains unconvinced. Pauline figures she needs help figuring things out, do she decides to visit a psychotherapist.
Meanwhile, Pauline's husband has completely divested himself of his marital commitments of fidelity. He takes up an office affair with his secretary Gladys Toy. She's a gorgeous and manipulative femme fatal trying to instigate divorce Dexter's so that she and her children might inherit his wealth. Dexter is a lawyer in a downtown firm. He receives an assignment to litigate against a man called the Mahatma: a mysterious self-appointed guru accused of sexual assaulting and harassing dozens of women. The Mahatma owns a resort estate called Dawnsville. Gladys encourages Dexter to visit Dawnsville for a bit of investigative research.
Dexter's son, Jim, is also a lawyer. He marries his college girlfriend Lita, a beautiful and seductive aspiring model. At first, Lita is happy with her role as housewife. She becomes close friends with Jim's sister Nona. Lita, Nona, and Paukine attend numerous social functions such as charity galas and and silent auctions. At one evening gala, Pauline gets drunk. In her mentally clouded, thoroughly uninhibited state, Pauline ends up confessing to the girls that her relationship with her therapist has turned romantic. She's involved in a sexual affair with him. And is thinking about moving out to his mansion. It's clear that her therapist is the man called the Mahatma, but Paukine doesn't realize it yet.
Pauline's daughter Nona is concerned that Dexter is developing an inappropriate relationship with her sister-in-law Lita. The two spend a of time alone together. Dexter starts and affair with Lita and continues his longstanding affair with his secretary Gladys.It's just a fling for Dexter, but for Lita things quickly get serious. She falls in love with Dexter. At thanksgiving dinner, she announces her decision to divorce Jim. Jim makes a suicide attempt by consuming a fatal amount of sleeping pills. His sister finds him upstairs convulsing and rushes him to the hospital. Jim is saved but remains institutionalize in a long-term psychiatric care facility several months.
Pauline leaves home and moves in with her therapist, whom she now recognizes as the Mahatma. Dexter is angry, hurt, and jealous. He positively hated his wife for having an affair and leaving him. He continues to see Lita. Dexter intends on killing his wife. One day Nona walks into Lita's room to find Dexter and Lita having sex. Dexter mistakes his daughter for his wife. He fatally shoots her and she dies instantly.
Best part of story, including ending:
The story is quite sad and ends on a somewhat absurd note. Finding meaning in the mess of affairs, disloyalty, and emptiness is a task left to the reader. The unresolved nature of the plot is leaves all the important questions unresolved. While some readers will be turned off or annoyed. I find it that the open ending reflects real life in a manner quite satisfying, thought-provoking, and engaging.
Best scene in story:
Dexter sends word of Nona's death to Pauline, who's now residing at Dawnside with her former therapist. Pauline cries in the arms of her former therapist, the Mahatma. She wonders where her life went wrong. This scene demonstrates the open-ended nature of the book's themes. Rather than moralize or preach, the narrative leaves it to the reader (and Pauline) to answer this most critical question ourselves.
Opinion about the main character:
Paukine is complex; likable and real. She's an authentic and sympathetic character. She reaches out for help when she needs it, and she's not afraid to show her vulnerability. Pauline is sometimes gullible and confused. Her decisions often seem naive and weak. In particular, her decision to take up house with the Mahatma is questionable. However, we can trust that despite the mistakes and tragedies she suffers, Pauline will find her way.