Picks and Pans Review: Obscene Gestures for Women

updated 11/27/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/27/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Janet Kauffman

Marimba, a woman who appears in a couple of stories in this collection, is described as being adrift in life with a single idea: "The universe was not created for human beings. It was a simple idea and she carried it around in her head. It made her surly, and it gave her peace."

Kauffman's characters, usually single, only vaguely attached women, often suggest variations on the same attitude—one of being disgruntled, puzzled and vaguely bemused but never bitter.

At times Kauffman, author of the novel Collaborators and a previous collection, confuses the specific with the cryptic. But however condensed her stories are at times, she car also crystallize a personality with lovely clarity, noting in "Where I'd Quit," for instance, how Mrs. Milan liked gentle, random kissing: "It wasn't an odd thing with her—more like a gesture of the hand, the kind of touch that means something too simple to say."

And in the title story, Marimba laments that traditional obscene gestures are inappropriate for women. She even rejects a substitute; while a splendid gesture, it is not obscene. It's hard not to join Kauffman in admiring this woman who chooses adherence to principle over mere relief of frustration. (Knopf, $16.95)

From Our Partners