Group feast (Doubleday science fiction) Hardcover – January 1, 1971
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The story: Cora Caley is an incredibly wealthy woman of striking beauty & rich life experience. In the midst of the Australian desert she has built The House, an enormous world in miniature within a single structure, containing everything lovely & wild & exotic & cultured -- containing the externalized objects & emblems of her psyche, in fact. The narrative takes place during the seemingly endless party she's throwing to celebrate her life & the completion of The House ... but of course it's actually the framework for a thorough & harrowing exploration of her past & her own soul.
This is a distinctly feminist story -- not the man-hating caricature of feminism that latter-day conservatives have since foisted upon the public consciousness, but the real thing, born of raised consciousness & awareness in the wake of the 1960s, attempting to redefine the nature & possibilities of women in the modern world. Having said that, let me assure you that this isn't a rant or a tract! It's a sharply satirical, robustly written story -- almost a novel of manners, really -- that's utterly engaging from the first page.
In some ways, the reader might be reminded of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast, albeit a very modern one, with its world-within-a-building. Certainly many of the characters are as odd & unique as any Peake every imagined, while still being quite recognizable as specific types of that time. If you wanted to know the mindset & style of a certain class of Western culture as the 1970s began, you could do far worse than to see it revealed almost nakedly here.
Again, as with all her work, this isn't for everyone. This sort of writing is out of fashion at the moment, as the innovations of the time were swept away by the regressive advent of Star Wars & its endless offspring. Even during its heyday, the New Wave was a minority movement, sad to say. But that doesn't make it any less powerful, challenging, or dazzling some 40 years later. Quality work can never truly go out of fashion; and somewhere there's a new generation of readers waiting to discover Saxton's remarkable oeuvre, if only they knew about it. May it all be republished soon -- most highly recommended!
Yet, as the party began Cora felt a tremendous sense of failure (she knew Plan X would most assuredly have to be instituted.) The party was failing, but only because it somehow seemed to culminate the terrible vacuum of Cora's own life. She was doomed to emptiness and she was terrified.
As the party progresses she is confronted by ex-husbands, former lovers, her sister, her daughter, servants and to all she seems on the verge of madness. Maybe she is, but then again maybe her own realization of the sterility of her life is her one sane though...maybe it is her lifeboat.
Weaving through reality and fantasy, Cora reveals herself as Every woman struggling not only for the great intangibles of happiness and love, but for the certainty of her own definitive and meaningful character.