Books by Tom Wakefield

WAR PAINT by Tom Wakefield
Released: July 22, 1994

In Wakefield's (Lot's Life, not reviewed) novel, which manages the feat of being both sweet and wily, three narrators reminisce about Kay Roper, a schoolteacher who arrived in the quiet British village of Padmore to teach in a girls' secondary school in 1942, and who has been killed unceremoniously by a swerving postal van. Janet Haycock, an adoring former student, recalls how Roper handled her charges with respect. She instilled a sense of pride in them, and insisted on shaking each one's hand individually and giving a formal and personal good-bye at the end of the day. Patrick Harper, a miner and Roper's neighbor, remembers how he trailed around after her on lovesick jaunts. He also recalls how Roper ministered to him when he was in the hospital after he almost lost an arm in a mining accident. Mrs. Chaplin, once the headmistress of the school and now living in a nursing home, reminisces about Roper's defense of her heavy use of makeup and flashy clothing, as well as the day that she produced a jar of salve that soothed the bad case of crabs that the snooty Mrs. Pickett appeared to have caught from her husband when he returned from the front. Pickett threw off her knickers right there in the headmistress's office and allowed Roper to apply it. Being forthright about sex and sexuality was Roper's strong suit. She organized an after-school group with mothers and used the time to instruct them on how to find mutual satisfaction with their husbands, and she kept a chart in her classroom of each student's menstrual period. These facts matched up oddly with her personal life, since she seemed dedicated only to her father and never dated. There is a great deal of gentle humor here, and Roper's death ultimately reveals several surprises. A delightful picture of village life, and then some. Read full book review >
SECRET LIVES by Patrick Gale
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: July 1, 1994

Three novellas by three Brits reminding us that the most ordinary-seeming people may lead lives of private drama. Bovine Brenda, the middle-aged spinster in Wakefield's (Lot's Wife, not reviewed) ``The Other Way,'' leaves her linoleum kitchen for a Tunisian holiday after winning the grand prize in a contest she had entered with the hope of winning the consolation appliance. Dowdy-by-day book editor Mary is a silk-stockinged mistress whose freedom and established habits are disrupted by her magnate lover's marriage proposal in ``Caesar's Wife'' by Gale (Kansas in August, 1988, etc.). Both ladies, for whom routine is a comfortable shoe, react dramatically to their new circumstances. Brenda flees her garish tour group for the quiet companionship of an aging homosexual gentleman and, in an odd maelstrom between otherwise comedic and contemplative pages, has a shocking epiphany. Mary panics and, with the help of her lover's gay, wheelchair-bound son, Josh (who is her close friend), cooks up a wacky scheme so she can have her cake and eat it too. The theme of secrecy applies to gays (featured with varying prominence in each story) as well as to misunderstood women. Homosexuality is most directly dealt with in the title story by King (Punishments, 1990, etc.), in which Brian, a closeted barrister, dies of AIDS, fearing to the end rejection from friends, family, and his beleaguered Japanese lover, Osamu. All three novellas are humorous and moving, but Gale's glows with a subtle polish the others lack. He's overcome the heavy-handed polemicism of his longer fiction and focused on telling the story, a fluid and wry tale. ``People aren't what you think they are,'' remarks Brenda's narrow sister. Nor are books, as Secret Lives proves: At arm's length, it's hodgepodge; up close, intricate patterns emerge. Read full book review >