Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Constance.
McGrath is such a skilled writer that even when I am far from enthralled by his characters, I find myself compelled to follow them to whatever end awaits. The title character, Constance Schuyler, is actively pursued by twice-married, twenty-years-older Sidney Klein, a fact that is not insignificant when weighing his decision later to fight for the marriage and on behalf of the woman he has chosen as partner.
Certainly Sidney has plenty of baggage to bring to his new marriage: Howard, a young son; Sidney's second wife, seriously ill, perhaps terminally; and the number of his years when compared to Constance's. His Manhattan apartment, wood-lined and filled with books, makes Constance feel like an intruder: "I felt that at any moment I'd be unmasked as a trespasser and evicted." While Constance has fewer possessions to bring into the union, she carries years of emotional baggage, enslaved to the lifelong conviction of her father's disdain. In that sense, Constance brings a whole family along—dead mother Harriet; the indifferent "Daddy," a physician; and ebullient younger sister Iris, lately embroiled in a steamy love affair with a pianist in the lounge of the hotel where she is currently employed, the yet-to-be-divorced Eddie Castrol.
When, out of curiosity, Constance instigates an introduction to the somewhat dissipated musician, she decides Iris is in over her head and convinces Castrol to end the affair—only one small bite in this tarnished Garden of Eden, but a significant one. Equally as illustrative of Constance's character is her reaction when introducing Iris to Sidney's friends at a dinner party in their Manhattan apartment. The tall, blowsy Iris wins everyone over with her infectious laugh and refusal to be intimidated, but Constance is horrified, albeit relieved in the moment.
While Sidney worries over Howard's future should his mother die, prodding Constance for intimations that she might consider mothering the boy, Constance remains focused exclusively on Daddy, ensconced in the family estate. The deceased caretaker's widow lives nearby, caring for the old man's needs as housekeeper and perhaps more. This lifelong entanglement dominates Constance's interior life. Sidney accompanies her to meet the man in hopes of helping Constance find peace with her circumstances. Ironically, Sidney discovers that he is sympathetic to the doctor, relating to the older man's sensibilities and frustration with a daughter's incessant, unremitting demands.
When "Daddy" reveals an ugly secret to Constance on the visit, the dramatic consequences unleash a torrent of rage and humiliation from a woman already embracing a surfeit of such heady emotions. The marriage is rocked by crisis as the so-called selfish Sidney rises above the tawdry circumstances of a union forged on impulse, Howard's future on his mind. It is not Constance but Sidney who proves that the most unlikely of people may have reservoirs of courage and the maturity to forgive, to heal and resuscitate a marriage surely headed for the abyss. This is McGrath's small miracle in the midst of chaos, a Hail Mary pass that scores the winning touchdown.