Hens Dancing

Raffaella Barker, Author Random House (NY) $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-375-50386-3
British magazine columnist Barker channels a postmodern Erma Bombeck in her thinly plotted yet charming U.S. debut, a year-in-the-life story told via the journal entries of Venetia Summers, a transplanted Londoner living in the Norfolk countryside. Feisty, 35-year-old Venetia has recently shed her philandering, ex-soldier husband, Charles, ""who fries cuddly animals for a living."" While Charles is thriving in the pet crematorium business and reveling in his new romance with ""poison dwarf"" Helena, Venetia delouses her sons Felix and Giles; staggers after her hyperactive eight-month-old daughter, ""The Beauty""; and tackles laundry and gardening to avoid writing copy for corporate brochures. As house and garden deteriorate around her, Venetia bewails her fading looks and dependence on her mother, seeking solace in junk food, friends, trashy clothes and Georgette Heyer romance novels. She also refuses to admit that she has a serious crush on David Lanyon, the cute carpenter who volunteers to renovate her bathroom; in exchange, she takes photos for his publicity brochure. Barker keeps things wickedly off-kilter, subjecting various characters to unforeseeable disasters and indignities: one eats a toxic mushroom, one chops off his finger and another stumbles poolside only to have a ""bit of his head"" gobbled up by an affectionate Labrador. Readers who share Venetia's enthusiasm for Georgette Heyer will guess where Barker's predictable tale is heading, but the newer author's caustic pen will endear her to grownups who like their women quick-witted and their fairy tales fractured. (Feb. 28)
Reviewed on: 02/01/2001
Release date: 02/01/2001
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