cover image Wicked Women

Wicked Women

Fay Weldon. Atlantic Monthly Press, $23 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-87113-681-7

These 20 saucy tales prove that the worst varieties of human pretension and evil are often the most entertaining, especially in the hands of an expert vivisectionist like Weldon (The Life and Loves of a She-Devil). Here, she skewers a cross section of despicable yet grimly fascinating types: the spineless husband, the talentless yet self-adoring artiste, the parasitic therapist and those who presume their sexual confusion is interesting to others. Each is held up to Weldon's strip-search scrutiny and ribald wit. The few sympathetic characters are generally women who mistakenly think they can pursue a career, raise children and have a loyal spouse. In ""Santa Claus's New Clothes,"" the temperamental but beloved matriarch of a big family has been peremptorily ousted by the husband's therapist and new wife. An ""astral"" sort, the therapist blathers on endlessly about her sensitivity. However, by the end of a disastrous Christmas dinner, her New Age veneer no longer conceals the fact that she's a control freak extraordinaire, a cuckoo in the nest. While hilarious, this story is also very poignant and, like all these juicy tales, acutely observant of the newest strategies in gender affairs. (June) FYI: Atlantic Monthly Press will reissue Weldon's most recent novel, Worst Fears, in paperback in June.