GETTING A LIFE

Helen Simpson, Author
Helen Simpson, Author . Knopf $22 (208p) ISBN 978-0-375-41109-0
Paperback - 208 pages - 978-0-375-72497-8
Open Ebook - 111 pages - 978-0-307-42601-7
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"She had grown stouter and broader... and the soul was not visible at all." So reads the Tolstoy quote introducing this new collection of nine linked stories by British phenom Simpson (Four Bare Legs in a Bed ), in which an army of exhausted mothers struggle through the millennium blues. "Golden Apples" and "Hurrah for the Hols" frame the collection. In the former, English lit student Jade Beaumont, set to dash off into life, is slowed down by a mother with a distraught child; the encounter leaves Jade even more determined never to be tied down. In the latter, Dorrie—"Mother Courage of the sand dunes"—is floundering in married life with Max and kids Robin, Martin and Maxine, brooding that "there must be something better than this squabbly nuclear family unit." In the title story, Dorrie appears again, shepherding her children through an ordinary but overwhelming day, with Jade in a cameo babysitting role. The uneven distribution of responsibility and respect in child-raising maddens Simpson's characters, but their devotion to their children is mostly unfailing. Stay-at-home mothers are well represented, but those who choose to keep their high-powered careers appear, too, apparently happier. In and around the domestic narratives, sharp vignettes of contemporary London life are inserted: "two shattered women" getting sloshed at a cafe and spilling the beans about family matters; a Robert Burns-themed mega-corporate gala night out; an expedition to a clothing shop so exclusive that its whereabouts are secret. Sharp-tongued and merciless, Simpson's stories of post–baby-boomer personal politics approach satire, distilling into tight prose the terrible pressures on childbearing women in the 21st century. (June)

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