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Kyra, the Greek name meaning “ladylike,” is the title of feminist Carol Gilligan’s tale of star-crossed lovers and their “seriously unshared” lives. In her renowned 1982 bestseller, In a Different Voice, Gilligan called attention to the assumption that “the human” could only be studied through men’s experience. Here, the debut novelist threads her theories of women’s psychology through a story about loss, intensive analysis, and the redemptive possibilities of equal partnership.
Proponents who fear that Gilligan has traded the women’s movement for glass slippers need not worry. In her protagonist, a widowed architect and Harvard professor, she has invented a heroine whose amorous endeavors require as much mental exertion as her design for a town. The interaction between Kyra and Andreas, an opera director, hinges on reciprocal listening, muted revelations, and handwritten letters. Their love is far too mired in anguished soul-searching to qualify as the stuff of daydreams; this is a grown-up romance, with the conversations about intimacy to prove it. Kyra‘s narrative voice is an unusual one: stilted but authentic, entirely without cynicism.
Overseeing a production of Tosca, Andreas convinces Kyra to design the set. “He’s just your type,” a friend remarks, “serious, funny, a little lost in himself.” Too quickly, however, Kyra loses herself in him as well. Andreas abandons Kyra at the height of their affair; then, in her search to discover what is “real,” Kyra cuts herself, a choice that leads her to Greta, a therapist so invested in her patient that she cries during their first session.
First novels featuring architecture should come with a warning label about an obsessive but fruitless preoccupation with structure, and Kyra is no exception. Representing the couple’s fraught relationship are dreams about traversing a dangerous bridge, which is as unnecessarily obvious as the scene in Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet illustrating Ophelia’s insanity with a straitjacket. After Andreas reappears, the final chapters are told from his perspective—an awkward shift. But Gilligan’s strength has always been her ideas, not her writing, and it’s noteworthy to witness her concepts about gender play out in imaginary lives, where vulnerability creates room for a happy ending.