FOUR BARE LEGS IN A BED by Helen Simpson


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Beautiful young Englishwomen and the men who disappoint them populate this tart and bitter debut collection by a former model and Vogue staff writer living in London--winner of the Somerset Maugham Award. ""I lay on the bed looking over my shoulder through a tangle of hair, aortas my dipping breast down to thighs like swan's wings. I felt electric and wanted him to look at me. But he slept within seconds."" Much is expected of the men in Simpson's stories and next to nothing is received as a succession of young women living in both ancient and modern England fume over their martyrdom at the hands of love. In ""Zoe and the Pedagogues,"" a self-effacing student sullenly tolerates her professor lover's habit of treating her as a kind of pet; in ""The Bed,"" a depressed secretary risks enraging her drab young cohabiter by buying a magnificent new bed; in ""Good Friday, 1663,"" a 17th-century teenager dissects the hateful qualities of her new, much older husband while waiting to give birth to another man's child. In Simpson's world, sex is seen as a despicable business transaction (""Are you sure your friend Jim values you at your true worth?"" a wealthy wife asks her younger neighbor in ""A Shining Example"" shortly before she makes a pass at her) or as a self-imposed form of solitary confinement (""I don't know what he thinks about,"" the narrator says of her husband in the title story. ""'If only he could talk,' as old people say of their pets""), and men can be counted on to lie, steal, disappear after a single night or, worse, remain to prove themselves unutterably dull. Pessimistic images (the vacationing heroine of ""The Seafarer"" unpacks her clothes into ""a wardrobe no bigger than a coffin"") and dreary settings accumulate until the fate of the final, quasi-Kafkaesque story's heroine--death by hanging--comes as absolutely no surprise. ""Don't be morbid,"" snaps the condemned woman's mother shortly before the book's abrupt conclusion. Sound advice, too late. Simpson's talent should improve with age.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1992
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Harmony