JENNY AND THE JAWS OF LIFE by Jincy Willett

JENNY AND THE JAWS OF LIFE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Stories with mixed success, but the best of them far richer than the rather slight and trivializing title would suggest. Willett warms up here with accomplished but standard pieces, working toward greater strengths nearer the end. ""Julie in the Funhouse"" clings to a literary self-consciousness in telling of a career woman murdered by her own spoiled children; ""The Haunting of the Lingards"" explores the ""perfect"" marriage of two intellectuals but remains more trim than robust; and ""Melinda Falling"" (a woman turns fashion-plate-beautiful--and shallow--after she fails to have children) is full of a glib and accomplished writerly skill that threatens to become an end in itself, holding the story close to the surface. Other pieces of verbal energy but slight mass are ""Father of Invention"" (a woman's escapist fantasies from girlhood through adulthood) and ""Resume"" (a man admits, á la Lenny Bruce, that he's self-interested); and ""Anticipatory Grief.' (a married woman's grief, in the form of sexual withdrawal, after her father's death) descends toward the easy banalities of ladies' magazine fiction. The upswing begins, though (in pieces that are equally felt and fashioned), with ""My Father, at the Wheel,"" a father-daughter story (replete with 1950's nostalgia) that's capable and uncompromising. ""The Best of Betty"" hits home solidly as a telling and funny satire of an advice column, and the remarkable ""Under the Bed"" takes on the subject of rape--movingly--without once plucking a single piety or clichÉ. The same is true of ""Mr. Lazenbee,"" about a precocious schoolgirl's coming of age (she twists fatuous adults into knots). ""The Jaws of Life"" is first-rate comic writing about adultery and breast-cancer without the whisper of a false note or indulgence; and ""Jenny""--the life of a woman and mother--reminds one at moments of, say, Mrs. Dalloway, with its deftness and depth. Perhaps half here is merely stylized, but much of the rest is wonderful work.

Pub Date: Aug. 19th, 1987
Publisher: St. Martin's