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Thorne, author of British soap-opera-with-an-edge (The Girls, A Woman Like Us), here flirts with a mild, ironic version of The Women's Room but finally lapses into even more standard adultery-drama. The perfect lady of the title is trim, house-proud, suburban Mrs. Ruth Harrow, who's completely happy just being wife (to stuffy but nice solicitor Geoff) and mother (of three); the standard roles suit her splendidly. Then, however, Geoff and daughter Olivia start making comments about Ruth's ""empty"" life and/or mind--plus there's the arrival next door of the unconventional Lazars: sloppy, frank, friendly Bella and her sexy, ""dangerous,"" Hungarian husband Antal, who suggests that Ruth go back to university and complete her degree. Ruth does so, but it turns out to be a disaster: Geoffrey is furious, their sex life deteriorates (Ruth sees how gross he is and learns to say ""no""), the house is a mess. . . and then Ruth's teenage son Joe is revealed to be playing around with Bella's teenage daughter--a development which so unnerves Ruth that she quits school and returns home to try to get things under control again. And then Thorne, apparently having lost interest in the question of whether or not Ruth's housewife life is empty, simply arranges for her to have an affair with Antal: very predictable sensual-awakening stuff (""She felt milked and drained and full of Antal's essence"") that ends in disillusionment as Antal is exposed as the swinish womanizer we knew he was all along. As a character study, then, this is all thoroughly unconvincing; Ruth begins as caricature; she never really changes at all, despite her going through the liberation-route motions; and Thorne seems to have no clear viewpoint about the failure of Ruth's raised consciousness. As a domestic diversion, however, it's passable--crisply written (except when Antal's ""essence"" is involved), reasonably varied (there's also a glue-sniffing crisis with Ruth's son and other teacup tempests), but ultimately unsatisfying.

Pub Date: March 6th, 1981
Publisher: St. Martin's