cover image Hard Time to Be a Father

Hard Time to Be a Father

Fay Weldon. Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, $23.95 (264pp) ISBN 978-1-58234-011-1

The prolific Weldon (Wicked Women) is at her wry, risk-taking best in this broad collection of 19 stories. The tight and cohesive work is built on a matrix of recurring characters intersecting with variations on themes (betrayal and loss, truth and scandal). In her signature style, Weldon peoples many of these pieces with women who wreak catastrophe in ways that thrill the misanthropic reader: from the art critic in ""Inspector Remorse,"" who seduces a painter's husband out of jealousy, to Stella in ""Once in Love in Oslo,"" who tells the woman who stole her husband that she, too, is being cheated on. Scruples and sentimentality have no role here, and the result is pure fun: when Elspeth in ""Percentage Trust"" learns that her lover Aziz is not a mogul but a chauffeur, she simply joins him in his bunko life. Dark humor pervades, especially in choices of names: Damask Vale-Eden and her sisters Chenille, Velvet and Caledonia are characters in ""What the Papers Say""; Jude Iscary is the aptly named protagonist of ""GUP or Falling in Love in Helsinki""; the derivation of the names of former husband and wife Imp and Trixie in ""Noisy into the Night"" is hilarious. Only the title story tries too hard to be wry. A tale called ""Pyroclastic Flow"" works far better in this context than in Forever Sisters, a multiauthor anthology also in current release. As always, Weldon takes no prisoners. (Feb.)