Picks and Pans Review: The Prospect of Detachment

updated 01/09/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/09/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

Lindsley Cameron

Like Jane Austen, Cameron takes an objective but not so detached look at life's comedies of manners. It takes more than a glimpse of stocking to shock anyone now though. "It is a truth acknowledged by unmarried women in Manhattan that a single man in possession of a large disposable income must be gay," writes Cameron in this book of short stories, imitating Austen's first line in Pride and Prejudice. She tells the title story from the viewpoint of a cat who's about to be, in that awful euphemism, "fixed." In another, she chronicles the social quandaries of a Japanese town infiltrated by Western influence. One couple names their Afghan hound Jyaki-O, "in acknowledgment of her elegance." Cameron's affinity for gay male characters is clear, but they come off at times as stereotyped. ("I never think straight," snaps one.) She's better in her more twisty, self-mocking stories—in one, some princesses line up at a palace to interview with a prince for the position as his wife. Real princesses, Cameron writes, read Foreign Affairs in line; the fake ones thumb through PEOPLE. Cameron, whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, buffs her edgy prose with compassion and dry, pinch-lipped humor. She keeps it going with a fascinating array of narrators, such as the catty, homosexual, imaginary friend of a battered wife in "Tooth Fairy." Cameron has in many ways succeeded in creating a whole new Jane Austen, though whether Austen would have appreciated being reconstituted as a superbitch is another question altogether. (St. Martin's, $14.95)

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