Also writes under: Lois Benjamin
Daughter of Jo Copeland; married Robert E. Gould (divorced); another marriage (divorced); children: two
Lois Gould's nonfiction is both graceful and biting. A feminist who operates effectively both inside and outside the establishment, Gould celebrates the women's movement with insight and without parochialism. A collection of her magazine pieces, Not Responsible for Personal Articles (1978), refutes the charge that feminism lacks humor; it surveys many aspects of the contemporary scene (such as charge accounts, health club addiction, burglary) with penetrating insight, thoughtfulness, and wit.
Gould's fiction depicts urban women and their feelings about themselves, often capturing them in moments of crisis. Using both realistic and fabulistic styles, Gould effectively conveys the ambience of slick people leading slick lives. The typical protagonist often struggles against this fakery. Gould is not afraid of happy endings; a note of restrained optimism underscores the difficulty of achieving fully realized humanity in an essentially inhumane society.
Julie Messinger in Such Good Friends (1970) must face the end of the marriage that served her as a symbol of emancipation from a self-loathing traceable to one of fiction's most damaging mothers. As her husband lies in a coma—the result of medical miscalculation during purportedly simple surgery—Julie is forced to reevaluate their relationship and their corps of glib friends. Discovering Richard's secret record of extramarital affairs, she learns many of the women in their circle have been his partners. Once deciphered, the diary is childishly explicit, and it symbolizes the false "code" of their union, which has caused her to blame herself for Richard's failures as husband and father. In the course of the novel, Julie struggles through stages of self-pity, disbelief, retaliation, and anger toward self-sufficiency and understanding. She is at least partially successful. Full of blunt sexuality, pain, humor, and truth, Such Good Friends is a remarkable book.
The Lowen sisters, protagonists of Necessary Objects (1972), never seek genuine understanding; instead, they collect possessions, counting among them husbands and children. Each of the four sisters was once potentially capable and productive, but the society about them, symbolized by their father, has transformed them into cold champion consumers, destructive to themselves and to others. Less successful than Such Good Friends, this novel nevertheless offers some fascinating characterizations (Alison's husband, Chad Batchelder, for instance) and some memorable scenes, including the staff conferences at Lowen's department store.
Gould's Final Analysis (1974) takes its unnamed protagonist through therapy, which includes a long-term affair with her equally troubled analyst. Each of the lovers must achieve some valid sense of self before the relationship can become healthy, and their struggle to do so is touching and funny. Gould's central character suffers Dr. Foxx's immaturity a bit longer than is wholly believable, but she remains convincing largely through the telling passages depicting the writer coming to terms with her real work.
A Sea-Change (1976) is a commanding and powerful fable tracing Jessie Waterman's transformation from photographer's model and model wife into the founder of a new family living a vastly different life. As Jessie comes to understand social and sexual power as it is used against her, she also learns to use it herself. Couched in mythic terms, making vivid use of sexual and name imagery, the book depicts the emergence of the new Jessie from the eye of Hurricane Minerva. It is a stunning variation of the maturation novel. Jessie's strength and determination also effect profound changes in her daughters, Robin and Diane, and in her friend and lover, Kate.
In her novels since 1980, Gould's style has continued to move toward the fanciful, a mix of reality and fantasy. As she turns to historical figures and mythical kingdoms, her language becomes rich and sensuous, her imagery deeper and more obscure. Mythology acted out for the love of the lower middle class was Jorge Luis Borges' description of the power of Juan and Eva Perón over Argentina. Referencing this observation and reflecting the magic realism of contemporary Latin American fiction, in La Presidenta (1981) Gould follows the progress of an impoverished, beautiful girl detailing her power over the media, her life with the president, her hold over her country, her untimely death. Corruption, sex, abuse, intrigue, and violence play against a background of poverty and wealth, hope and despair. Gould's rich use of language and imagination and of history that borders on fantasy and her vivid characterizations make it possible to put truth at a distance without judgement. We know we are not meant to take the story literally.
Subject to Change (1988) is entirely myth; least like Gould's other novels, it was accurately called by one critic an "adult fairytale." A childish king, a childless queen, an aging mistress, a mystical dwarf, and a wandering sorcerer inhabit a medieval kingdom. The marks of a classical fairy tale are here: magical herbs, potions, secret gardens, labyrinths, foolish battles, stolen property, and a mysterious birth. The pope and a heretical cult play a mysterious role. The dwarf Morgantina—"A tiny monster. A gargoyle"—is sent to the queen as a gift: Morgantina is the queen's toy and she is cruelly treated. Her limbs are severed by the queen in sport, and grow back. Morgantina also has the significant power and great cunning of a sorceress. Gould's language and syntax add to the intrigue. Questions are asked and not answered. The ending, the last line tells us, is subject to change.
Medusa's Gift (1991) combines the styles of La Presidenta and Subject to Change. Fame, sex, power, history, and myth are again the means Gould uses to tell the story. Marilyn Monroe could, but might not be the lead character, Magdalen. Medusa, the coldly beautiful Gorgon, swims in the waters off an Aegean island; her poisonous sting can be fatal. The island is the reality where playboys, power brokers, has-beens, artists, and writers live and where Magdalen comes seeking privacy. Or is it Magdalen? Filmmakers and movie historians follow, pursuing the rumor and her legend or myth. Sex, mystery, and carefully placed hints are the tools she uses to keep them interested. Medusa, the myth, strikes and apparently destroys the vulnerable Magdalen. Gould again asks questions that have no answers, plays with syntax, illuminates and hides through lush language.
Gould's eighth novel No Brakes (1995) is set at a car rally in the dark countryside of Northern Ireland. The protagonist, an American woman named MaryJo, joins her son's best friend, Ludo, as navigator for the event. She is fascinated by the charismatic Ludo. Unable to resist the chance to spend several days with him, she embarks on an adventure that slowly reveals itself to be fraught with more danger than simply that supplied by speed. One of the participants is Princess Victoria, a rebellious British royal who may be the target of terrorists, or who may herself be hatching a plot to terrorize the family she hates. It also appears Ludo may not only be part of the plot but may be carrying explosives in his car.
Gould is the daughter of Jo Copeland, America's first famous fashion designer. Sixteen years after her mother's death, Gould wrote Mommy Dressing: A Love Story, After a Fashion (1998), a retrospective of her life as the daughter of the noted designer. Brought up in wealth and with the best of everything, Gould's parents were divorced when she was three. Her mother had a difficult time with intimacy, which comes through loud and clear in this tale. Gould was often lonely, her parents never attending a school function or birthday party. She describes Mommy Dressing as an account "of my mother; of her mysterious, splendid life in fashion; of my own sad childhood at the dark fringes of that shining world." It is done with "applaudable equanimity" in Gould's stunning prose, and is an interesting, honest read, regardless of whether the reader is familiar with its characters.
Gould is an able writer with a fine mastery of detail and dialogue; her observations are cogent and worthy of continuing close attention.
Sensible Childbirth (with W. L. Fielding, 1962). So You Want to Be a Working Mother! (1966). X: A Fabulous Child's Story (1978).
CA (1990). CANR (1990). MTCW (1991). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995). WW in Writers, Editors and Poets (1989).
Book World (21 June 1970). Chicago Tribune Book World (19 September 1976). LJ (15 Feb. 1997). Ms. (Feb. 1978, July 1981). NYTBR (15 Oct. 1972, 14 Apr. 1974, 19 Sept. 1976, 26 Feb. 1978, 31 May 1981, 10 July 1988, 27 Oct. 1991). People (7 July 1997). PW (3 Feb. 1997). Time (4 July 1988). WPBW (24 May 1981, 17 July 1988).
—JANE S. BAKERMAN,
UPDATED BY JANET M. BEYER
AND REBECCA C. CONDIT