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Joseph McElroy: Women and Men

Weighing in at nearly 1200 pages, this is McElroy’s most ambitious work to date. It is huge, not only in size but also in scope. Indeed, there are so many plots and sub-plots, it is difficult to keep track of what is going on. Suffice it to say that it is about the denizens of a New York apartment building, particularly James Mayn, a journalist from New Jersey, and Grace Kimball who is a feminist and practises as a therapist, conducting Body-Self workshops for women. Mayn used to live here before with his wife and children but now lives here alone. Though Mayn and Kimball are neighbours, they never actually meet. However, though they do not meet, we get to know a lot about them, in bits and pieces, through their eyes and the eyes of others and their lives do seem to intertwine. McElroy is also concerned with giving us not only a panorama of relationships between men and women, particularly through the eyes of Kimball, who has strong views on the matter, but through the eyes of the world at large. However, he also gives us a panorama of a variety of topics and events – from US intervention in Chile to environmentalism, from space exploration to jojoba beans. But, with a variety of styles, a huge range of characters and complex, interlocking stories, this novel may well have killed the mega-novel. McElroy certainly went into literary hibernation after it and, unlike some of his contemporaries, never won the readers over.

Publishing history

First published 1987 by Knopf