The British author of three novels (Wide Open, etc.) and two collections of short stories (Heading Inland  and Love Your Enemies, both of which contribute stories to this volume), Barker has a demonstrated penchant (a fondness, even) for writing about the freakish twists life holds for average or extraordinary misfits, neurotics and the walking wounded. In this wildly imaginative and thoroughly entertaining collection, readers meet Bendy Linda, the circus contortionist; Nick, the boy born with his organs reversed (heart on the right side, liver on left); young women with breast fetishes, nose fixations, fears of fat and secret sexualities. It's not so much that Barker works a sideshow but that, like R. Crumb, she has a clear-eyed, if sardonic, take on the characters she captures in quick, witty strokes, from the school teacher whose ""life was as flat as the fens"" to the personnel officer in ""a lambswool polo-neck which clung at her throat as tight and sure as the skin of a banana."" These stories are edgy, always subverting expectations and sometimes turning magical, as in ""Inside Information,"" where an expectant mother learns to unzip her belly so her fetus can complain. In ""Symbiosis,"" a formerly pudgy ex-girlfriend shows off her new svelte shape and the reason for it: a tapeworm. The title story is a merry farce about a 44-year-old, still beautiful woman whose husband leaves her, 22 years after he first got her sympathy and attention by deliberately misbuttoning his coat. ""G-String"" describes the night Gillian, ""a nervous size 16,"" the uncomfortable and mortified first-time wearer of thong underwear instead of her usual roomy drawers, finally tells off her fussy and dismissive boyfriend. Barker's subjects are often raw and irreverently sexy, while her endings are sometimes abrupt, but she never fails to surprise and delight with incisive writing and piercing wit, to say nothing of all the vivid characters inhabiting these rambunctious and witty stories. (July) FYI: Barker has won the 1997 John Llewellen Rhys/Mail on Sunday Prize, the 1993 David Higham Prize for Fiction and the Macmillan Silver Pen Award for Fiction.
Reviewed on: 06/28/1999 Release date: 12/01/1998 Genre: Fiction