BOOKS IN PRINT

My Other Women by Pauline Carey  

A novel about a Toronto actress in the 1960s and ’70s who evolves into a theatre director known for her innovative style at a pivotal time for Canadian theatre. In her private life, she enjoys sex, likes men but does not want to live with one; consequently, her deepest loves are for three married men. The plot of the novel turns on how she eventually makes friends of their wives and draws them around her in her work.

Andrea, born in 1939, arrives in Toronto in her teens with the sole ambition of becoming an actress. She appears in new Canadian plays, develops a script for her own one-woman show, becomes a teacher who helps students discover new forms of theatre, and a director of experimental plays. While she seldom strays from the purity of live theatre, she has a brief spell of astonishment when she becomes a commercial star, selling chewing gum and making money.

As she explores the arts with the growth of Canadian theatre, Andrea also explores her sexuality with the availability of the Pill. The three main loves of her life are three married men all of whom work in the arts. As each of these men falls out of her life, she unwittingly draws around her their three wives -- not only as friends, but as co-workers. A manager, an artist and a pianist all see their lives enhanced and their careers invigorated as they join Andrea in her projects, while Andrea remains forever silent on the past.

Review text

In the 1960s, Toronto is a city on the edge of a theatre-driven revolution. With boundary-breaking plays testing the limits of audience expectation, young actress Andrea Dermot steps into this burning new landscape determined to find a life for herself onstage. In her journey towards personal and artistic fulfillment, Andrea enjoys men and what they have to offer, but prefers to live life unattached, guided by her own principles of love and devotion. A driven drifter, she pursues acting with a dedicated passion, but finds herself melting into the arms of unavailable men. Her heated affairs with married men don’t, for the most part, weigh too heavily on her conscience; but after the end of each affair, she finds herself bound in friendship to the wives of her lovers and through them experiences a complexity of love and devotion she did not expect.

My Other Women is an ode to every artist in pursuit of fulfillment. Thankfully, Carey’s construction of Andrea is not the typical celebratory ode to a rebellious woman who tears away from the constraints of societal expectations to emerge bright and victorious. Carey moves beyond this chimera of feigned depth and creates a character so real it’s as if Andrea were plucked off the streets of Toronto’s bustling arts community, laid across the pages of this novel, and carved open for inspection. This tempered presentation of a realistic character makes her struggles relatable. Andrea is talented, but she is not a diamond- in-the-rough awaiting discovery. She aspires to some sort of greatness, but like many artists she works at what she loves for a pittance while plundering through the daily mechanisms of a less fulfilling job that will keep her financially afloat. This refreshing look into the life of an "ordinary" artist is set alongside scenes of intense artistic devotion. Readers witness Andrea’s studious acts of creation as she stitches something whole out of the remnants of women’s lives.

Although the events of this novel are set against the backdrop of profound cultural change, with the details of setting playing an integral role in the development of plot and character, the heart of this story pulses on what is left unsaid. The silence left between lovers (why did you leave me?), between friends (do you know about your husband?), the silence that exists on stage (use your body, not words) and languishes in Andrea’s mind (do you know what you want?) is an infuriating and exhilarating aspect of the narrative. The world of theatre that Carey has so masterfully depicted reverberates quietly within the reader; a necessary silence between the reader and text makes for a space that allows us to imagine ourselves as the artist, to look inward to see what one needs to be satisfied, or at least to move on.

This novel serves as an incredibly valuable study of the artist at work while pricking beneath the surface of deeply held convictions regarding love and marriage.

—Shoilee Khan, ForeWord Magazine, May 2011

Review quote

‘With free love, marriage seems foreign. My Other Women follows fiercely independent and marriage abstaining Andrea Dermot, an artist who finds her doses of love in the form of married men on the stage in Canadian theatre. She finds friends in her lovers’ wives, and leaves her in an interesting position of friendship, sexuality, independence, and love. Thoughtful and riveting reading, My Other Women is a read that will be hard to put down.’

—MidWest Book Review

Author comments

Andrea’s passions and lifestyle reflect the history of her time.

Theatre. As a teenager in Toronto, she studies with a European master and plays in small workshop productions. She explores the use of poetry with a solo dancer, finds her voice in musical revues, sheds her clothes in nude theatre, plays ‘other women’ in television and summer stock until she finally writes a script for herself about unmarried women of history. After touring this show across Canada, she briefly becomes a commercial star on TV selling chewing gum, discovers an affinity for teaching actors and later develops as a director of stage musicals and theatre productions that use new techniques such as video and new ways of presenting a script.

Sex. At a time when the pill gave women freedom to explore, Andrea is more than ready to take advantage, enjoying the constant something new and relishing the adventure of discovery in different beds. After a lengthy but ultimately false step with an older married man, she becomes somewhat hardened to the inevitable but does her best to do no harm while never wavering from what is best for her. She has a lively sexual history but never loses sight of what she wants to achieve. As she states at one point, ‘Lovers come and go, work is there for ever.’

Feminism. In her rebellion against the ‘other woman’ roles she is offered in theatre and TV, Andrea develops a one-woman play about unmarried women in history who she finds frequently vilified as whores, witches and old maids. She plays The Spinster Show in Toronto and then tours it across Canada. In 1980, she rewrites the script briefly after discussion with lesbians in Vancouver, then takes the show around Ontario. On this second tour, in which she now calls herself an actor, she finds audience members -- both men and women -- who question their own marriages or lack thereof and are now willing to talk about that.

Marriage and Family. When Andrea first receives an offer of marriage, she sees it only as a restriction on her freedom. During the course of writing her Spinsters show, she discovers that her maternal grandmother never married the father of her children. Andrea herself never knew her father, who was killed at Dieppe, and when her mother leaves Toronto to rejoin the B.C. family while Andrea is still in her teens the two do not meet again for twenty years. Apart from one desperate plea to a departing lover, Andrea never seriously wants children and appears to find a substitute in her work with students and child actors.

Friends. They come through her work.

Damien is a dancer who takes his first plunge as director on the dance show in which Andrea reads poetry. He later directs the show she writes for herself and becomes her best male friend.

Martha is the poet of that first dance show, a Cockney from London who lives on the Six Nations Reserve in Brantford. As an older woman, she becomes a calm and wise friend to Andrea, someone to turn to in moments of distress.

Felicity is an actress who meets Andrea on a musical revue, later offers to help with the dance show, becomes Andrea’s capable stage manager on the tours, and moves on to be an assistant stage manager at the Shaw Festival and to create her own poetry show.

The wives of three married men Andrea has loved eventually become her best women friends and, in varying degrees, co-workers in her theatre ventures. As these three women lose their men through circumstances unconnected to Andrea, they find themselves in different ways drawn into Andrea’s enthusiasm for her own work and intrigued by what she has to offer.

Discussion question for Reading Group Guide

Why does Andrea dislike marriage? What difference does she see between marriage and a long-term relationship?

What are the parallels that Andrea draws between her work and her relationships with men, or relationships more generally? How are Andrea’s various roles in the theatre reflected in her own life? As Andrea develops her career, from acting to writing to directing, do you notice any similar changes in her personal life -- or do the two life paths become more separate? How does Andrea apply lessons from theatre in her personal life and vice versa?

Andrea tells Janet that ‘there is something romantic about the word ‘actress’. Janet replies, ‘Andrea, smarten up! We are not in a romantic age.’ Both women share a complicated relationship with the concept of romance. Discuss the ways in which Janet and Andrea each interact with the concept -- marriage, romantic love, family life, fidelity, etc. How do the women reconcile their desire for romance with their real-life experiences and needs (such as Andrea’s need for occasional solitude)?

Janet tells Andrea, ‘You’ve worked with too many male directors. They’re all in the head. You do it your way. Forget the cerebral nonsense, make each moment work ...’ What are some of the differences between men and women in My Other Women? How does Carey explode or explore conventional gender differences? What is Carey saying about gender in the novel?

Sex is important to Andrea. She seeks it out from men whether or not she has any other interest in them. When Ruth gives Andrea a massage as a birthday present, it, too, is described in sensual terms, reminiscent of Andrea’s sexual encounters even though the massage is strictly between friends (or is it?). What are some of the different kinds of love between men and women and between same-gender friends in the novel? Think of Andrea’s responses to Ian, Jon, Mike and Amos -- how does her interpretation of her emotions change?

Discrimination based on gender, appearance and age frequently occurs in the performing arts; Andrea faces it frequently. On the other hand, the performing arts also allow for questioning convention, such as Damien’s show in drag. How does art reinforce and also complicate stereotypes and tradition in My Other Women? How does Andrea?

Andrea saw her nudity ‘as the ultimate gesture in presenting [herself] to the world.’ To Andrea, acting is best when done honestly. She disdains television and film for their inauthenticity. Why does she feel this way? How are these feelings reflected in the way she lives her life?

Although Andrea never has children, she finds herself enjoying the role of a director, nurturing and mothering her actors or students. How else does Andrea find fulfillment in her work that she might otherwise have found in a family?

Is My Other Women a treatise against marriage? Would you describe it as feminist?

Do you think My Other Women suggests a shift in morality and in the way society approaches fidelity, sexual explorations and gender? How do you think society feels about these issues today?

Unpublished endorsement

In My Other Women, Pauline Carey takes a sidelong, sardonic look at marriage, through the eyes of a young woman who wants no part of it. Andrea Dermot is a gifted, determined young actress who creates a life and career for herself in the wave of theatrical innovation and experiment that appeared spontaneously in Toronto in the 1960s. Believing that an artist with serious ambition needs to guard her independence, Andrea chooses not to marry, but she can’t ignore love.

Carey’s portrait of a time of rebellion and change is sharp, insightful and entertaining. Her examination of love and friendship adds a deeper emotional colour and truth to the story she tells.


authorPic

As an actor, Pauline Carey played the god in Toronto in Dionysus in 69 and in 1980 toured Canada as Charlotte Bronté in Graham Jackson’s solo play, Charlotte. As a playwright, her children’s variety show Bugs has run in two theatre festivals, a contemporary play, My Name is Emma, won an award in Wales in 2005 and in 2006 she was named a finalist in the BC National Playwriting Competition for her play about Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, Reason Has Nothing To Do With It. Short fiction and memoir pieces have appeared in NeWest Review, Onion, Now, Hopscotch for Girls, Pottersfield Portfolio, Room, Descant and Wrestling with the Angel (Red Deer Press). My Other Women is her first published novel.

The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.

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LITERARY COLLECTIONS / Canadian

FICTION / Literary

ISBN-13: 9780889843271

Publication Date: 2010-09-01

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 208

Price: $22.95