Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"Menage," by Alix Kates Shulman

Alix Kates Shulman has had a permanent place in my pantheon of admired women, ever since I read her classic feminist novel, "Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen" (1972). She is (or at least was) also well known for being one of the first to write about how married men and women should share housework (and everything else). Let me take a minute here to thank, once again, the pioneering second wave feminists of the late 60s and the 70s who made such a huge difference for women. As for Shulman: I have only read a couple of her books over the years since then, but I just read her new novel, "Menage" (unfortunately I can't figure out how to insert the accent mark over the first "e" in this blog program)(Other Press, 2012). This is the story of a married couple who invites into their home an intense, respected-for-his-celebrated-past-work-but-with-no-recent-work emigre writer originally from an unnamed Eastern European country. He has fallen on hard times, and they provide him with a space to live and write in their large, luxurious house in the woods of an upscale part of New Jersey, where the couple has moved from Manhattan. The husband, Mack, is an expansive, kindly-but-calculating real estate entrepreneur. His wife, Heather, wants to be a writer but so far mainly only writes an online column on the environment; she rationalizes that she will write more - preferably a novel - when their two children get older. Meanwhile, she is vaguely dissatisfied with her life, and Mack thinks that inviting Zoltan to stay with them will be good for her, as she will be able to discuss writing, literature, and other intellectual topics with him. Complications arise when the prospect of sex enters the picture, and when the expectations of the three main characters teeter out of the delicate balance of who will get what from the arrangement. This novel is quite interesting as a psychological study of the three characters and of their complex interactions. Overall, though, it does not have the heft, the impact of a book that the reader will remember much past reading it. (Now, on a completely different note, I would like to register a small complaint against some paperback books' being given an inside cover flap, similar to those on a hardback book's paper cover; these are fine for hardbacks, and eventually get removed anyway, but on paperback books, since the flap is actually attached to the front cover, it is thicker, and can't be detached (especially as in this case, when the copy I read is from the library), and keeps rising up and getting in the way. I think the publishers who use these are trying to raise their paperbacks to a higher level than the regular ones, to "class them up," so to speak, but the annoyance outweighs any such positive impression.)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Site Meter