‘Other Men’s Daughters’ by Richard Stern – The Breakup of a Family

 

‘Other Men’s Daughters’ by Richard Stern   (1973) – 246 pages

Here is a novel that one might think would be relevant for today, since it is about a forty year old man, a married Harvard instructor, having a sexual affair with a twenty year old young woman.  The novel was written in 1973, not long after The Pill had burst on the scene which made this type of relationship much more viable than it was before.

In ‘Other Men’s Daughters’ the twenty year-old girl is the ardent pursuer while the forty year-old married man is hesitant and holds back until he finally falls into the affair.  That does not seem particularly realistic as generally the man is the chaser, even if The Pill is available to the girl.

My main problem is that we never get any strong sense of human attraction between this guy and his young girl.  Instead we get miles and miles of pedestrian inane exposition about Harvard with little or no payoff.  The guy is more in love with himself being at Harvard than he is with the girl.   We get very little sense that, despite their pretensions, human beings – both men and women – are still animals wearing clothes.  I guess I’m downgrading the novel for not being raunchy enough.  That was never a problem for Stern’s fellow author, Philip Roth who wrote the NYRB introduction to this novel. I guess that instead of all the maundering around on the streets and classrooms of Harvard, I wanted Stern to just deal directly with the guy and his girlfriend.

However the main point of ‘Other Men’s Daughters’ is to show the resulting breakup of the family caused by this extramarital relationship.  The husband and his wife did not get along at all for a long time, but when the wife finds out about her husband’s affair, it is divorce time.  There are also the four children ranging in age from about five to seventeen to take into consideration.  Here again I felt that Stern over-intellectualizes the situation instead of dealing directly with the feelings of those involved.  However there are a few times when Stern does capture the emotional toll as in the following interaction of husband and wife.

“They would pass each other on the stairs and exchange grunts. Two adult Americans trained in one of the centers of human fluency, grunting.  Twenty years in one bed, and the contra-faction of their lives issued in grunts.”

Despite a few good scenes and lines, overall ‘Other Men’s Daughters’ was somewhat of a slog to read with all of its prosaic avoidance of feelings.

 

 

Grade :   C+

 

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9 responses to this post.

  1. It’s strange how uneven these NYRB re-issues can be: it’s as if their critical radar malfunctions sometimes.

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  2. How disappointing. I was looking forward to this one. But as you say NYRB has an excellent track record

    Liked by 1 person

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  3. Tony, I, too, found this disappointing. Stern writes very well, but I could not quite believe in any of the characters–except him! What a narcissist. But I quit after 30 pages, so cannot pretend I am qualified to judge the book. I thought of gritting my teeth and continuing but have really read so many great books this year that I’m spoiled.

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