Three Women

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Suzanne Blume is not suffering from the empty-nest syndrome. Her life has never been more rewarding. The divorced mother of two grown daughters, she teaches law, has a thriving private practice, and, best of all, has been flirting online with a man she has never met. But her neat, buttoned-up life starts to unravel when her daughter Elena returns home, angry and unemployed, and her safe online boyfriend materializes on her doorstep. Then, the biggest challenge of all: Her independent mother, Beverly--still vital,...
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Three Women: A Novel

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Suzanne Blume is not suffering from the empty-nest syndrome. Her life has never been more rewarding. The divorced mother of two grown daughters, she teaches law, has a thriving private practice, and, best of all, has been flirting online with a man she has never met. But her neat, buttoned-up life starts to unravel when her daughter Elena returns home, angry and unemployed, and her safe online boyfriend materializes on her doorstep. Then, the biggest challenge of all: Her independent mother, Beverly--still vital, still working, still involved with men and politics with equal passion--suffers a stroke and can no longer care for herself. This is the story of three women: Beverly, whose strong will is suddenly frustrated by a broken body; Elena, whose life was split in two at fifteen by a scandalous tragedy; and Suzanne, who must make peace with her mother, her daughters, and herself.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Prolific novelist The Longings of Women and poet Piercy once more depicts the travails of single, independent women in a multigenerational story that manages to cover most of the feminist issues of the late 20th century. The three protagonists are Beverly Blume, feminist and civil rights activist; Beverly's daughter, no-nonsense Boston attorney Suzanne; and Suzanne's daughter, the beautiful, misguided Elena. A vigorous New Yorker, 72-year-old Beverly has always put political activism before motherhood. Now crippled by a stroke, she is faced with the humiliating prospect of moving in with the daughter she never had time for. Suzanne, at 49, is already coping with rebellious, troubled Elena, who has returned to live at home after being fired from her job. Suzanne is also worried about her younger daughter, Rachel, who is in Israel studying to become a rabbi. Meanwhile, she is embarking on her first relationship in 12 years, after Jake, a sexy environmental activist she has been flirting with on the Internet, appears in the flesh. Though Suzanne's is the primary voice, the story is told from the perspectives of the other women as well. Elena's past is the most dramatic, marked by drug use, a tragic high school experience and a series of obsessive relationships with the wrong men. As the narrative progresses, the three achieve a new intimacy that is put to the test when a second stroke further incapacitates Beverly. Suzanne and Elena must decide whether to acquiesce to Beverly's anguished pleas for them to help her end her life. Piercy keeps the plot humming with issues of motherhood, Judaism, generational tensions, sexuality, and independence. Her pacing is confident, as usual, and she interweaves the three narrative threads with aplomb. Apart from Jake, who remains an elusive sketch, Piercy's insight into her characters' emotional lives is an accurate reflection of intergenerational tensions. 5-city author tour. Oct. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Veteran novelist Piercy has always been adept at weaving stories around her causes, and this novel is no exception. Its protagonists are a law school teacher and lawyer, who has raised her two daughters herself; her fiercely independent activist mother, who has suffered a stroke; and her aimless older daughter, scarred by a teenage tragedy. Because the plot spans three generations, with flashbacks for each woman, the list of causes is long, including labor, civil rights, feminism, abortion, and environmentalism. In terms of plot, the weakest story is that of the daughter, strung out as a teenager on drugs and sex and embroiled in the deaths of her best friends and lovers. A somewhat disappointing effort from an old stalwart, this may nevertheless be in demand among her fans.--Francine Fialkoff, "Library Journal" Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Three generations, three strong wills, and the never-resolved conflicts within a family are the bedrock of this latest from the wide-ranging Piercy (Storm Tide, 1998, etc.). The women of the title, reunited by unfortunate circumstances, have to struggle through physical and emotional impediments to reach an understanding, and with it an uneasy peace. In the eye of this familial tempest stands Suzanne, a successful appeals-court attorney and law professor, enjoying midlife solitude in suburban Boston, complete with a harmless online romance, after raising two daughters largely by herself. The first winds of change blow back into Suzanne's life her beautiful but unsettled child Elena, in her late 20s and freshly jobless and homeless, still reeling from an adolescence marred by tragedy. Scarcely has Elena settled in when Beverly, Suzanne's labor-organizer mother, who heaped scorn on her daughter's lifestyle and choice of profession, has a stroke that overnight turns her from an energetic, free-thinking woman proud of her looks and her life on Manhattan's Upper West Side, into a speechless cripple. Suzanne brings Beverly home to live with them, and tries to juggle work, family, and the intense pleasure of a new physical relationship with her online partner, Jake. But Elena's way of settling in is to start an ill-fated affair with the husband of Suzanne's best friend, with whom they share the house, and when the transgressors are discovered in the act, the ensuing rage of emotions brings on Beverly's second stroke. As Suzanne watches helplessly while her savings are converted to convalescent care, Beverly, convinced she won't recover, makes increasing demands on daughter and granddaughter tohelp her to die. While the tempestuous turns occasionally prove excessive, the tangled relationships here are credible to the core, with the voices of the older generations being especially poignant.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060937027
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 12/28/2001
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Marge Piercy is the author of the memoir Sleeping with Cats and fifteen novels, including Three Women and Woman on the Edge of Time, as well as sixteen books of poetry, including Colors Passing Through Us, The Art of Blessing the Day, and Circles on the Water. She lives on Cape Cod, with her husband, Ira Wood, the novelist and publisher of Leapfrog Press.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Suzanne Blume finished up her day's lecture on the First Amendment in the cavernous auditorium and shook off the students who immediately surrounded her. She was the first woman ever to be permitted to teach constitutional law at the university, and she generally over-prepared, as she overprepared everything from occasional holiday suppers with her daughters to every case she had ever taken on. But today she had no time for the students, as she had to get to her office and change from her university outfit of trim slacks, silk blouse, and blazer to her navy court suit, same blouse. Like every woman litigator she knew, she had a whole wardrobe of navy suits, gray suits, one daring one in charcoal. She took sheer panty hose from her middle drawer where she kept makeup for court, scarves for court, and dumped her dangling earrings. She kicked off her high-heeled boots and put on her pumps. At five foot three, she was too small for her role in the world. In spite of the backaches they gave her, she always wore heels in public.

Now she ran in them down the hall and to the parking lot. She had given the keys to her Toyota to her assistant, Jaime, and he had the car waiting at the door. He drove. She sat in the back reading her notes as he headed for downtown Boston. She would get there a little early for the afternoon session, but she would need time to run over her presentation. It was important never to appear to falter before the judges, but always to sound confident and a little diffident at once-especially as a woman.

She loved appellate work, because it was nice and tidy and controllable. It didn't offer the punch and zing ofregular trial work, but she had started doing it when she still had the girls at home. It was scholarly, it was somehow soothing, points of law instead of Main Street at High Noon. It had its advantages and its drawbacks, but it wore less on her than trying cases. It demanded enormous meticulous preparation, which she customarily did in every case, but far less time in court: say, one morning as opposed to a month or several months. The power lines stood Out quite clearly: she usually faced several white male judges from an upper-middle-class background in their archaic robes, operating from a view of the world she did nor share but expected of them. The defendant was seldom present. Unless it was an exceptionally high-profile case, no reporters bothered.

"Can I come in to observe?" Jaime asked, breaking into her concentration.
"Park the car first." She thought for a moment. "Why not? It's good for you to observe. Just keep your mouth shut."
"Thanks, Suzanne. I'll never say a word."

He was a blend of American Black and Filipino, beautiful and wary, bright but overly sensitive. He was far from his family and had adopted Suzanne almost at once. She did not mind. She had only been teaching for the last twelve years, but in that time, she had acquired a hundred honorary offspring. Some fell in love with her, some were confrontational, some leaned, some whined, some flattered, but they all stayed in touch, and she remembered every one. Maybe she had done better with her academic children than with her blood children. Nowadays universities hired few lawyers with courtroom experience, but when she had been approached, she had already been involved with the university clinic-and the university was eager to hire a couple of women because of affirmative action.

She forgot Jaime as soon as she entered the courtroom. It was always that way: a case closed over her and she lived inside it. The appeal was on a murder conviction of a woman who had shot her ex-husband because she claimed he was abusing their daughter, of whom he had custody. He was a doctor. She was a laid-off librarian getting by on temporary office work. The question of the appeal of course was not whether she had shot her ex-husband, whether he had abused their daughter sexually, bur rather if she had received adequate representation from the court-appointed counsel. Suzanne had amassed two good precedents and argument from the transcript. The prosecutor was the same one who had obtained the original conviction. She knew him well from her years of practicing: good but a little overaggressive. She began to review her brief in the half-hour to forty-five minutes that would knock off the cases on the agenda before hers. At one point she noticed Jaime had slipped into a seat in the last row. What she remembered as she talked was the pale, drawn face of her client. She was taking this on pro bono. The woman had no money, and her family had exhausted its resources. She remembered too the girl Celia, terrified, placed in a foster home for the last year.

This was an appellate court and nowhere but in her mind would the faces of the convicted woman and her frightened daughter ever appear. Justice to Suzanne was about people, but here it was all about argument and precedent and the power of the judges. It was the law, questions of the law: these judges being male, like the lower court judge, should not be as much a problem as it had been in the original trial. It shouldn't bear so heavily upon the case that these judges would never willingly believe that a good professional man, a doctor of their own class, would discard his wife into poverty and make use of his own child sexually. No, she would only be arguing points of the law, but in her mind always she would know for whom she was fighting and why: the daughter, Celia; the mother, Phoebe, whom she had visited last Saturday at Framingham, the women's prison outside Boston. She could not make Phoebe understand that the judge would not hear arguments about whether her ex-husband had sexually abused her daughter, the act that had fractured Phoebe's world. Phoebe didn't understand, but it was not necessary that she should. Suzanne would win for her and get her back Celia. Ultimately Phoebe was right: that was the only thing that mattered. Suzanne was in her proper element, a legal fight, with the arguments marshaled in her memory like a row of soldiers ready to go into battle. The adrenaline sang in her muscles and in her mind. She remembered once taking her younger daughter Rachel to a presentation by a raptor specialist, when Rachel was eleven and impassioned by anything ecological. The woman had with her a hawk, hooded. As soon as everyone was settled, the lecturer removed the hood and the hawk gleamed into life, eyes glittering, looking for prey, eager for action. Fierce and utterly focused: that was what Suzanne felt like in court, that unhooded bird of prey. Finally it was her turn to rise and, in ten minutes, to present her case for appeal.

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Reading Group Guide

"I write character-centered fiction, which means it is almost never high concept, and my plots are neither tight nor ingenious... Most of what happens simply proceeds from the interaction of the characters with one another and their environment, their history, their circumstances." -Marge Piercy, "Life of Prose and Poetry: An Inspiring Combination," The New York Times, Dec. 20, 1999.
A teenager's secret menage a trois, a desperate suicide, a police shooting, a forbidden affair, and a mercy killing are just some of the events experienced by three women, all mothers and daughters, in Marge Piercy's immensely moving novel. Like all of us, these three women fashion their worlds from their habits and hopes only to encounter the unpredictable tragedies that shake or shatter us, leaving us fractured and changed -- but perhaps emerging from the pain, as Hemingway wrote, "stronger in the broken places." Told from each character's point of view in alternating chapters, Three Women lets us watch, like a peeping Tom through a window, the most intimate and emotional moments of three lives.

Suzanne Blume, the first woman to teach Constitutional Law at a Boston university, is, at five foot three, "too small for her role in the world." Divorced, heading for menopause, and embracing life with gusto, she litigates explosive legal cases, has met an interesting man over the Internet, and is about to have her meticulously organized days thrown into chaos when both her difficult-to-please mother and troubled oldest daughter suddenly move into her home.

Beverly, Suzanne's mother, has always been a firecracker.A political organizer for half a century, she has dared to take lovers, have a child on her own, and fight for justice in the factories and streets. An independent, feisty, opinionated woman, her raison d'être, or reason for existing, is to help others in need. A stroke is about to profoundly alter that. Elena, a ravishing dark-haired beauty now in her late twenties, is the "problem child" of the family. While her sister Rachel, clearly her mother's favorite, is studying to be a rabbi and planning her wedding, Elena has bounced from job to job. Haunted by a tragedy from her teenage years, she distances herself from her emotions, prefers sex to love, and now, fired again and adrift, she has come back home. With immense empathy and insight into women's feelings, Marge Piercy shows us what happens when these mothers and daughters are confronted by the conflicting forces of resentment and love. They face, in Suzanne's neat middle class home outside of Boston, a coming together that becomes a final chance to learn what they never have before -- how to appreciate each other's gifts and tolerate faults; how to balance one's own needs with the demands of family; and how to make the choices that are never easy, but that give us our dignity, release our passions, and allow us to be our authentic selves. Discussion Questions
  • The three women who hold center stage in this novel are all mothers and daughters. Do you think their inability to get along stems from being too different, as Elena insists, or being too much alike?
  • Would you call Beverly a good mother? Is Suzanne? Is it possible for a woman to be a "working mother" and a good mother? How can we evaluate how well a child turns out? By accomplishments? Values? Personality? Happiness?
  • Suzanne is an example of a woman in "the sandwich generation," caught between caring for an aging parent and her child. What are its effects on her? What alternatives does she have?
  • The incident we slowly uncover in Elena's past has had a tremendous impact on her mental and emotional states. How do you think a person can overcome a trauma of that magnitude? Do you think Elena has by the end of the novel? If so, what has changed for her?
  • Who are the men in this novel? Are any of them admirable? None of the women in the novel has a stable relationship with a man. Why not? Do you think any of them can?
  • Who is responsible or culpable in the love affair between Elena and Marta's husband Jim. Elena insists she "came on to him." How do you view the situation? How can vulnerable young women be made wiser without learning in the "school of hard knocks"?
  • Perhaps the toughest question in the novel is how to care for Beverly. It is one most women face as their parents age. The book is especially effective in revealing Beverly's perspective, even when she can't communicate it to others. Knowing that, was there another way to handle her care? Could there have been a different end for her?
  • Piercy doesn't flinch when she throws the reader into the midst of the emotional inferno sparked by Beverly's plea to help her die. How is the request consistent with her character? Is it ultimately a selfish thing to ask...or the right thing? Did Suzanne and Elena make the best choices?
  • There are a number of guns -- and guns going off -- in this book. Not stated explicitly, but there nonetheless, is the controversy over gun ownership. Suzanne and Marta both believe they need to own a gun because of their work, yet both use the gun, not for protection, but as an outlet for their emotions. Discuss how they do this, and discuss whether owning a gun, when all is balanced out, is a necessity or a tragedy waiting to happen.
  • Change is not the same as growth. All the characters in this book change, but which of them grows? Who is "stronger in the broken places" by the end of the book?

About the Author: Marge Piercy is one of America's finest poets and novelists. Making her living entirely from her writing, conducting writing workshops, and giving poetry readings, she has created a impressive body of literary work. Her novels include City of Darkness, City of Light, The Longings of Women; He, She, and It, Woman on the Edge of Time, and Gone to Soldiers. Among her best known collections of poetry are Early Grrrl and The Art of Blessing the Day. An activist and feminist, she lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts with the author and publisher Ira Wood, and four cats.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 28, 2013

    Wow    highly recommend this one !

    Wow    highly recommend this one !

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    Posted July 11, 2013

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