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FOUR BARE LEGS IN A BED by Helen Simpson


by Helen Simpson

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-517-58508-1
Publisher: Harmony

 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, across 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.