Picks and Pans Review: Naked to the Waist

updated 10/21/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/21/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Alice Elliott Dark

The plot lines of these six stories by first-time author Dark, a New Yorker, read like scripts for the now-defunct thirty something: a newly remarried painter in her late '30s is torn between her art and her desire to have a baby; an intelligent, upper-middle-class wife faces violence in her marriage; a straight woman rebounding from a love affair is frustrated by her unrequited love for a gay male friend. Self-involved and analytical, Dark's women are perfect examples of urban angst; only the occasional biting observation saves them from becoming stereotypes.

Dark is best observing small things: In the book's strongest story, The Good Listener, a teacher "remembered how it was at school when a mousy student won a prize; the triumph of the underdog imparted a feeling of solidarity to the group at large." But an overriding need to make an overt point—"Hypothesis: he needed other people. Conclusion: the people he needed, he already had"—undermines stories that would work better if they were more fragile, less obvious. It's as if Dark doesn't trust her characters to send their messages—or readers to receive them. (Houghton Mifflin, $19.95)

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