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DÉjà vu with a vengeance: this long, dreary, often tasteless novel is only for those who've somehow forgotten the women's fiction of the Seventies--from Diary of a Mad Housewife (1967 actually) to The Women's Room--and want a bland refresher course. Shanks' heroine is Mrs. Sarah Weiss Dillon of Central Park West, 33, wife of preppy, non-Jewish Bill, mother of two, and now (circa 1980) about to catch up with women's lib. So most of the novel follows Sarah through an evening with a consciousness-raising group--the women strip, discuss their bodies, their sex-lives, abortion, contraception, gynecology, anatomy, genital imagery, etc.--while Sarah is also recalling her whole life in a series of awkwardly interjected flashbacks. Thus, we get glimpses of: possessive/uncaring Jewish parents (""Mommy--you care more about the people on TV than me!""); early sexual fumblings; hymenectomy by an insensitive gynecologist; first love/sex with middle-aged theater director/teacher Paul; first diaphragm; first fellatio; Paul's suicide (""Sarah cries. And cries and cries and cries and cries and cries and cries--""); work at WABC-TV news; courtship and marriage. And when Sarah gets home from her women's group, she demands sex from lackluster Bill, fights with him, exposes his adultery, has some more flashbacks (pregnancy, childbirth), leaves Bill, makes a feminist documentary, and winds up back with Bill. . . whose consciousness has risen miraculously. All this, of course, is dated and derivative. (Shanks' attempted explanations don't help: ""How had she, why had she let herself get involved in--in a CR group, for God's sake--and in 1980!"") Worse yet, it's completely uninvolving and often cheap--with unpleasant stereotypes (dumb blonde, lesbian CR-leader) that make the pseudo-feminism here especially tacky. For a fresh, stylish, succinct (half the length of this) ex, ample of a married-woman's-life-through-flashbacks, see Nina Bawden's recent Walking Naked.

Pub Date: May 24th, 1982
Publisher: Norton