War Between the Tates

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The War Between the Tates: A Novel

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380711352
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/1/1991
  • Pages: 350

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  • Posted May 7, 2014

    Alison Lurie's The War Between the Tates (1974) opens in March,

    Alison Lurie's The War Between the Tates (1974) opens in March, 1969, spans fourteen months, and is set in the university community of Corinth, purportedly based on Cornell University and, by extension, Ithaca, New York. While references are made to Viet Nam, overpopulation, the generation gap, and subdivision development, the dominant focus is feminism and the gender wars, with the major protagonists being Erica Tate (homemaker, artist, and writer of children's stories) and her husband Brian, an accomplished political scientist at Corinth University.

    Their middle aged angst comes to a head when Brian has an affair with, and eventually leaves Erica for, a co-ed graduate student half his age: an immature girl who lacks his wife's defined character and seems to passively conform to the late sixties counterculture. Characters are successfully utilized, along with a smattering of satire, to delineate flaws on both sides of the gender divide. Erica tries to empathize with others, but frequently misreads people and misinterprets situations. By contrast, Brian, a chauvinistic caricature, is so obsessed with his own wants, needs, and career that he has little left for his wife, mistress, and petulant adolescent children. Perhaps he is the stereotypical academic, brilliant in his field, but oblivious to the disconnect between his ideals and his treatment of others. His antithesis, Sanford Finkelstein, aka Zed, a one-time university chum of Erica's, is an inept dropout who abandoned a failed academic career in favour of astrology, eastern philosophy, and proprietorship of the Krishna Bookshop. And while Brian abandons human commitments, Sanford cannot possibly do this because his lack of initiative meant he never established any to abandon. Doubtless, such men leave much to be desired. But the women fare no better. Erica laments the disdain for a chivalry that goes hand in hand with opening doors and holding coats. And she disapproves of feminist peers who are loud, aggressive, and competitive. She nevertheless errs when she dismisses these behaviors as male traits just as these women err if (according to Erica's theory) they think such behavior makes them more like men. After all, attributing behaviors to groups instead of individuals is not only bigoted, but socially destructive if individuals start believing they are powerless against deterministic forces. Unintended consequences might include absolving individuals like Brian of personal responsibility for their actions. Also, radical feminism turns ugly when a group of ideologically motivated women (initially egged on by Brian) disrespect academic freedom by persecuting one of Brian's political science colleagues. On a concluding note, this novel is not without its humour or entertainment value and is, all things considered, a satisfactory read. Besides, any novel that wittingly or otherwise skewers chauvinists and man hating feminists alike cannot be all bad.

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