Good Women: Three Novellas by Jane Stevenson

by Corrie on May 24, 2006

Delivered in the wrong tone by the wrong person, the phrase “good women” can sound condescending, like a verbal pat on the head; or lascivious, like a squeeze of the bottom. We know from the cover illustration of this book that Jane Stevenson’s use of the term is meant to be ironic: the word “good” is barbed with sharp little thorns.

Stevenson introduces us to three women from different walks of life, each of who suddenly finds herself betrayed by an aspect of her femininity. Freda is a nouveau-riche temptress who uses men to get what she wants, and is stunned when her latest plan blows up in her face; Wenda is a dithering middle-class housewife who, after acquiring an unusual new talent, starts to resent her husband’s control over her finances and her freedom; and Alice is a passive well-to-do widow who would be happy to spend the rest of her days puttering in her garden, if only her weasely son and his manipulative wife would leave her alone. The twist of each tale comes when the unlikely heroine revolts against the repressive men in her life (and the repressive qualities in herself), in ways slightly too sinister to be solidarity-building. These women are not meant to be role models; rather, their stories are cautionary fables.

Taken individually, the first two novellas are just a tad too long, while the last is so well-crafted, it could have been extended into a novel. But clustered together, the trio’s shifting perspectives of characters and class makes for a colorful short-story bouquet.

(reprinted from BUST, April/May 2006)

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