DEAR DIGBY by Carol Muske-Dukes


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In her gently satiric first novel, poet Muske-Dukes pokes fun at feminism while implicitly reaffirming some of its basic principles. This sassy little comedy thrives on wisecracks and one-liners, and offers itself as something of a Miss Lonelyhearts for the liberated Eighties. Willis Jane Digby edits the letters column for the bimonthly Sisterhood magazine--a "cross between a feminist Time and a liberated Ladies' Home Journal with an all-woman staff serving a readership of five million." But reading through the thousands of letters, many of them truly loony, begins to weigh heavily on this unhappy Manhattanite. Fortunately, when she decides to enter the lives of her desperate correspondents, she suffers none of the tragic consequences endured by Nathaniel West's bleeding-heart columnist. Instead, she brings to her revamped letters page a scathing wit--now applied to the assorted Neanderthals who complain about the "bovine big-bottomed bourgeois bitches" at Sis, and whose self-incriminating screeds she begins to publish. The apparently crazy women who pour out their souls in the mail find in Willis a sympathetic ear--she herself is given to fits of goofiness (donning rabbit ears, running with the feminist pranksters of W.I.T.C.H.--for Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell--etc.). But it's one letter-writer in particular who proves to be Willis' savior: Iris Moss, a severely scarred and handicapped woman, writes from a state mental hospital, convinced she's being injected with "seminal fluids" nightly. Seeing through Iris' diagnosed paranoia and self-delusions, Willis tips off some reporters who eventually expose a pattern of sexual abuse at the institution. This revelation leads to much publicity for Willis, who's also being hounded by a persistent correspondent who signs himself "The Watcher" and who does indeed seem to be spying on her every move. The importance of some rather melodramatic and clichÇ-laden flashbacks becomes clear when The Watcher succeeds in rewriting Willis' life story--for the better. Despite the banal idea at its core--that insanity is relative--this nifty contrivance of a novel well embodies its anarchic spirit.

Pub Date: April 18th, 1989
ISBN: 670-82506-9
Publisher: Viking
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