cover image Something Leather

Something Leather

Alasdair Gray. Random House (NY), $19 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-394-58963-3

Toward the end of this bawdy social satire, in a chapter somewhat contemptuously called ""Critic Fuel: An Epilogue,"" Gray ( Lanark ) reports a conversation with the avant-garde writer Kathy Acker in which he complained that he had no ideas for stories, and she suggested that he write one with a female protagonist. Although skeptical of his ability to ""imagine how a woman felt when alone,"" Gray writes a story about ""modest, conventional"" June, who, on a lark, decides to buy ""something leather."" This novel is what becomes of her and the three women who cross her path: Senga, a brutish dominatrix; Senga's dim assistant Donalda; and Harry, a disturbed but nonetheless faddishly successful artist. The tale's trajectory is simple: June is converted from her life as a secretary to a pipe-fitting mogul to a leather-clad woman with a shaved head and a taste for pain. Gray's concerns, though toying with the psychosexual, center on the sociopolitical. His portrait of Glasgow classes, replete with hilariously turned proper accents and the hapless struggles of the down-and-out, is Dickensian with a twist of Lenny Bruce. Gray's prose is cutting; his eye witheringly astute. Unfortunately, the book is freighted with bitter asides about reviewers, typists and other trivial matters, which one wishes an editor had curtailed. ( June )