Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

"Mischief" by Fay Weldon (Head of Zeus, 2015)

Selected stories from The New Yorker, Cosmopolitan, The Times, etc. Her 4 page introduction begins with "During the four decades over which these stories were written the relationship between men and women in the West has changed out of all recognition. In the seventies women still endured the domestic tyranny of men, in the eighties we found our self-esteem, in the nineties we lifted our heads and looked about, and in the noughties - well, we went out to work. We had to". She adds

  • "These stories often read, I can see, more like concentrated mini novels than classic short stories"
  • "The Other Side always seems to hover over my work - alternative realities always threatening to break through"

Early stories feature pantomime male baddies (fault-finding, intolerant, and self-righteous) paired up with emotionally submissive heroines (with low self-esteem; women who run the house and have a job who are accused of being boring, moaning killjoys). When the wives rebel, friends (even women) side with the reasonable husband who has to put up with an apparently unstable wife. Later in the book a woman opts for a madness verdict in court, hoping for an easier sentence. Then there are some stories involving therapists - "I expect you're a feminist - I notice you're wearing a trouser suit - and like to think everything in this world is the man's fault. You want me to scream out tension and rage and terror and horror? I won't ... Talking will get us nowhere. I do love my husband" (p.119). At times this supposed madness hints at the supernatural.

Maybe some of the phrasing sounds like RomCom because that's the persona's way of thinking - "Edward's love made flowers bloom, made the house rich and warm, made water taste like wine" (p.6), "Still, it had been a good marriage as marriages go. And as marriages go, it went" (p.27), "Kim had been Kevin from Liverpool before seeing the light or at any rate the guru" (p.27). The style is paragraph-based, the final paragraphs often being the best. Some stories degenerate into lists of paragraphs describing who married/slept with/divorced whom, or lists of evidence of thoughtless.

  • "they has no washing machine, Edgar feeling, no doubt rightly, that domestic machinery was noisy, expensive, and not really, in the end, labour saving" (p.52)
  • "If Martha chose to go out to work - as was her perfect right, Martin allowed, even though it wasn't the best thing for the children, but that must be Martha's moral responsibility - Martha must surely pay her domestic stand-in. An evident truth, heard loud and clear and frequent in Martin's mouth and Martha's heart./ 'I expect you're right,' said Martha" (p.89)
  • "Martin rather likes his secretary. Diet. Martin admires slim legs and big bosoms. How to achieve them both? Impossible. But try, oh try, to be what you ought to be, not what you are" (p.93)

Stories written in the 1990s still have artist/writer husbands with women whose artistic talents have been underestimated. Infidelity continues to be rife. Film-makers become more common. The 2000s story "Smoking Chimneys" has a first-person female persona who's like one of the early male characters in drag - "People should not invite guests if they cannot house them adequately" (p.227); "People should not have children if they do not have the moral wherewithal to control them" (p.228). Now women rather than men are likely to leave their husband and kids for lovers. But Joseph and Marcelle in "Why Did She Do That?" are flashbacks to the 1970s.

I liked "Ind Aff or Out of Love in Sarajevo", the 4-page "Lily Bart's Hat Shop", and "Wasted Lives", the latter having passages that are unlike anything else in the book.

At the end there's a 130-page novella that could have been far shorter. The plot's interesting enough, veering into SF or witch-lit. The characters and traits are familiar.

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