To care or not to care that is the question. It is in fact one of a number of questions I was left with having read Jane Bowles' only novel 'Two Serious Ladies'. That Mrs Bowles' reputation rests largely on this book, one play and a few other fragments begs another question : is she really as good a writer as Mr Capote and Mr Williams would appear to have thought she was? On the evidence available I think not.
Her wannabe Bohemian credentials certainly placed her at the heart of a coterie of heavyweight literary libertines in the 40's and 50's and her own search for authenticity is to some degree reflected in the actions of the two principle characters in her book. Ms Goering and Mrs Copperfield may well be facets of Mrs Bowles' own existentially shaky persona but in truth I found it almost as hard to find anything to like at all about Ms G and Mrs C as I did in the voice of their narrator. The austere language, action and inaction of the narrative is stilted and artificial. That both women are trying to find a little happiness in a time when the love that dare not speak its name was a tangible and terrible constraint must of course be taken into account. The claustrophobic desire for self-actualisation and emotional release is palpable but unrealisable. Whether to go out into the world or to stay at home are just different forms of the same prison. We are forced to have some sympathy for their relative predicaments but I could not find it in my heart to like either of them.
Perhaps the effect that the book had on me was intended and very probably I am being ungenerous but I would not wish to to encounter its like again. Zola did it far better anyway!