I've had this book for - oh probably over a decade - when it was given away free by Cosmopolitan magazine, and I finally got round to reading it today. There is a range of stories, all refreshingly different and unashamedly feminist in tone. I most enjoyed The Bed which told a transformation in the lives of a young couple who buy a bed they can't afford and find it turns them into more sensual and loving people. Of the utmost simplicity, I found it absolutely delightful. Let me say, in haste, this is not a book about erotic love, but more about sensuality and happiness or it's obverse in a world where women's lives centre on families, and the pressures and traumas that women face. The writing is somewhat hectic at times, but you get the feeling that words are beautiful things that can pour out balm upon the world. Fourteen very short stories, each one perfectly crafted. The only one which gave me significant pause for thought was Labour which was a very short play, with a two choruses of midwives, and involved birth as an experience fraught with danger, courage and the changing shifts of midwives. There are many quotes underlined in my copy of this book:
"He gave me a fat lip and then he took my rent money and walked out. I spent Sunday trying to get rid of the blue marks with ice cubes and played the Bessie Smith song about fifty times, `I'd rather be dead and buried in my grave; mean old grave!' That always cheers me up."
These stories are set from 1663 to the distant future, when it's moral failure that gets you hanged. They run from the most provoking and wittiest of satires, to the natural heir of kitchen sink, perhaps more like dishwasher lives. I liked them all immensely.
on 13 December 2000
The first of Helen Simpson's 3 books of short stories (and, despite what it says above, now published by Vintage with a different cover) is a perceptive and amusing collections of short stories about love, marriage and motherhood. Though it has some of the uneveness which comes with being a first book, it is well worth reading (especially for the Greek-style play about giving birth, which features 2 choruses of midwives). Anyone who enjoys this book should also rush out and get hold of some of Lorrie Moore's short fiction.