BAD GIRLS by Mary Flanagan


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For her literary debut, Flanagan slips in and out of these supple short narratives with all the confidence and agility of a quick-change artist. Whether fey, blas‚, arch, or objective, her resonant voice commands attention: this American in London is a new-wave Henry James. When Flanagan's girls are good, they are very, very good, but when they are bad they are horrid, and the latter clearly interest her more. Her punk Daisy Millers (Daisy of ""Simple Pleasures"" or Sylvie of ""A Parma Violet Room"") sleep around, pop pills, and flout decorum not innocently, but with a brazenly decadent flourish. And her girls are capable of much worse. Lydia, in Flanagan's diary of a mad housewife, ""Cream Sauce,"" decides to escape ""the nightmare intimacy of family life"" by poisoning her insufferable hubby; Louise (in ""Wild Garlic""), a plump and plodding academic from America, throws caution to the wind, and in her first truly spontaneous act, kidnaps her adored British godson. In the haunting ""Death in Sussex,"" a decorous matron chooses suicide over slow-death by cancer, but cannot prevent her final moments from being a messy affair. Less chilling, but erotically charged, ""A View of Manhattan"" finds middle-aged Amaryllis in a transatlantic extramarital affair (she sports with New Yorker Sheldon in the shade). The longest piece--an epistolary novella--is a cockeyed eulogy to a thoroughly dreadful and debauched American artist, Georgia DeBellis, nee Wendy Perlmutter. The shortest, ""White Places,"" flawlessly depicts a group of nasty little girls, the Pretends, who bully their youngest member near to death by imprisoning her in a snow fortress. What finally links the disparate women of these stories is not just their willingness to entertain madness and death, but the way in which Flanagan manages to make us see through them and with them. Her sympathetic vision, so far from the writing-program pallor on this side of the Atlantic, deserves to flourish in the noonday sun.

Pub Date: Nov. 21st, 1985
Publisher: Atheneum