PLAYING AFTER DARK by Barbara Lazear Ascher


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Very brief essays (many reprinted from Ascher's New York Times ""Hers"" column) offer further testimony of the appalling narcissism of the 80's. Ascher is a fine stylist whose phrases often sing. But the myths about women that she pretends to be exploring and ironically deflating in these essays are all too often implicitly revelled in and glorified. The first essay is a gushy hymn to marital fidelity (""a feeling of being alone in the world without loneliness. . .of peace and security. . .""). Ascher's critical reflex kicks in only when she encounters people even smugger and more self-absorbed than she--such as the southern belles of ""Sorority Rush at Ole Miss."" Even in interviewing Eudora Welty, it seems chiefly to be Welty's celebrity status that impresses Ascher. But Ascher's interview with Welty provides one of the infrequent fine moments here, as Welty admits how much she disliked teaching and decides that, if she had to make ends meet again, she would work with her hands: ""Such as painting chairs. You paint a chair in the morning and there it is in the afternoon."" There are few other surprises, however. From ""Middle Age: Becoming the Person You Always Were"" to ""Babies' Asses,"" these essays offer no variation on the old theme of the rueful housewife, and under the slick surface there's actually less of a critical edge than you'll find in Erma Bombeck. A strong and consistent persona is necessary, of course, in maintaining a newspaper column. But Ascher's focus on me-me-me and people-like-me seems tedious and self-admiring at book-length.

Pub Date: Sept. 5th, 1986
Publisher: Doubleday