A WORKING MOTHER by Agnes Owens

A WORKING MOTHER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Scots novelist Owens's first US appearance: a sly, hilarious tale about one woman's search for meaning. Betty, a resourceful if aimless woman of middle years, and her husband Adam, a spiritually disenfranchised vet who, ten years after the war, ""still looked as if he had just come home from the battlefield,"" live in a small house with tatty furniture, frayed carpets, and a dirty kitchenette. They have two bratty children, Rae and Robert, who amuse themselves by tossing stones at the neighbor's cat, and one brainless friend, Brendan. When Adam decides he's tired of supporting the family, Betty seeks out a job. Upon finding one as a secretary to Mr. Robson, a licentious old attorney, Adam relinquishes all familial responsibility and Betty suggests a divorce. They agree and celebrate, as per their tradition, with a bottle of cheap wine. While Adam then whiles away the hours avoiding his kids and getting squiffy with Brendan at the local pub, Betty is hard at work regaling Mr. Robson with anecdotes about her recent escapades, in and out of the house, for the ""study"" he's writing, tentatively titled Human Behavior in Animals. None of this, however, relieves Betty's purposelessness, and she, like Adam, drifts from moment to moment trying to create an ""impression of progress toward some goal"" that continues to elude her; life, she concludes, is a ""vacuum of desperate nothingness."" While all this sounds unbearably morose, the potentially off-putting weight of the narrative is relieved by the author's unrelenting, John Cleese--like humor: At one point, Betty, wondering whether she ought to kill herself, is dissuaded by the height of the veranda rail she'd have to scale; at another, she wonders why she's out of the house being miserable when she could be sharing a bottle in the ""discomfort"" of her own home. In the end, everyone but Betty disappears; she's left alone, slightly sozzled and institutionalized. Downbeat-sounding but, in fact, an engaging and very funny read.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1995
Page count: 187pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury--dist. by Trafalgar