Picks and Pans Review: Moon Over Minneapolis
By now, after 18 books of fiction (and several plays, works of non-fiction and collections of children's stories), British author Fay Weldon's themes are pretty clear: women, their relationships with each other, with men, and with a basically sexist world. While neither Life Force nor the stories in Moon over Minneapolis (most of which have already been published in American or British magazines) has the bite of a Weldon classic like The Lives and Loves of a She-Devil, both have witty, ironic moments and provoke the occasional laugh out loud.
The more successful of the two works, Life Force (Viking, $21) is also the more Weldonian. Told in alternating first-person accounts by Marion and by Nora, the novel recounts the adventures of one Leslie Beck, a twice-married Englishman possessed of a "life force" (i.e., sexual drive) so strong that he has also seduced four close women friends (including Marion and Nora) and fathered at least three of their children. A master manipulator whose seductions begin with the stock line "Tell me about it.... I can tell by your eyes you're unhappy," Beck manages to continue inciting lust in these married middle-class women, even when he reappears in their lives after an absence of 15 years. Like a prepaternal Warren Beatty, he runs through women "like electricity"; only-Marion's young female art-gallery assistants see him for the creep he is.
But for all the discussion of "Leslie Dong the Magnificent," Weldon's book is at least as much about the love-hate relationships between the women as it is about men and adultery. Although, for example, Nora and Marion politely yield the storytelling floor to each other, their mutual mistrust and competition becomes clear. There's more here than different perspectives, the author seems to be saying; when a man's involved, it's every woman for herself. But then, very few cultural ironies escape Weldon. She has Marion, the art dealer, observe, for example, that "just because it's art doesn't make it good. Just because it sells doesn't make it bad."
Unfortunately, the stories in Moon over Minneapolis (Penguin, paper, $9) are not similarly multilayered. A woman tries to kill herself because her lover dated another woman; a 40-year-old executive goes for an abortion; four different women talk to their therapists. These are all very short stories, some of which read like outlines or pieces patched together to meet magazine deadlines. And the points they make are often simplistic. But even the occasional wry observation—"Peter said I had a good mind but not a first-class mind, and somehow I didn't take it as an insult. I had a feeling first-class minds weren't all that good in bed"—isn't enough to lift these stories beyond aphorism. Better to take Fay Weldon in larger, more complex doses.