SOLO SPINOUT by Ann Nietzke


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Mining John Updike's territory of vaguely bitter, contemplative middle-age, but from a clear-eyed female perspective, Nietzke's (the nonfiction Natalie on the Street, 1994) first collection offers the last word on burnt-out baby boomdom in southern California. The women in Nietzke's tales confront common dilemmas with a surly disregard for their presumed timelessness: Husbands have split, lesbianism has replaced straight domesticity, menopause looms. In the title story, Lili develops attachments to laundry and gin while considering the absence of her male lover. When he returns, abjectly, it's difficult to know whether she feels elated or merely reassured. ""Los Angeles Here and Now"" hinges on the accidental delivery of a cremated young surfer's ashes to a woman who, after she takes the remains to her grieving neighbor, finds herself sexually enticed by the woman's cool suffering. ""No Man's Land"" is a novella in the form of an extended, Proustian meditation, with a tennis racket returned by protagonist Corinne's ex-husband sparking her recollections of that failed marriage. Her husband, Jack, was just free of one marriage and considerably older than Corinne when they got hitched; now Jack is on wife number three, and Corinne has fallen in love with a woman. In fact, Corinne and Jack shared just two passions: one for tennis, the other for Lela, a willowy temptress who lures everyone toward sexual reckonings. With tennis as her main conceit, Nietzke uses contrasting playing styles--Corinne's is stolid and dependable, the younger Lela's slashing and aggressive--both to structure the narrative and explore the ways in which women who came of age in the 1960s have changed. With her unwavering eye for the foibles of L.A. utopianism and her tremendous grasp of social mores, Nietzke has been compared with Joan Didion. This book, however, is less reportage than a quiet feast of unforgettable characters.

Pub Date: April 12th, 1996
Page count: 196pp
Publisher: Soho