Saturday, 13 April 2013

Prose Class with Helen Hagemann on Friday, 19th April, will look at British author Fay Weldon. Class will read her story Run and Ask Daddy if He Has Any More Money from her popular short story collection "Wicked Women".

Writing exercises and discussion on "Ways of enhancing the Narrative using Metaphor."
Venue:  Fremantle Arts Centre
            Room 2, Upstairs, North Wing
            1 Finnerty Street, Fremantle.
Day:     Friday, 19th April
Time:    10.00am til noon
Cost:    $20 (OOTA member) $25 (Non-OOTA member)

“A bristling collection of stories . . . Weldon has become one of the most cunning moral satirists of our time.”—The New York Times Book Review

With 21 novels and three story collections, Fay Weldon has reigned as the champion of the discarded wife, the embryonic woman who grows up by default and becomes shrewd by suffering. Her genius is to portray all this heroic self-discovery not with sermonizing but with deft satire.
In ''Wicked Women,'' Weldon's bristling collection of stories, she broadens her targets. Attuned to the deeper currents of family and sexual unrest, this satire is so stinging that reading it is like seeing someone stripped of clothing in a public place. Yes, Weldon's heroines still deal with cheating spouses and struggle to protect the family nest. But now they also use a bit of wickedness to contend with insecure househusbands who punish their wives for surpassing them, self-absorbed adult children who can't see beyond their own muddled lives, and the culture's communal hand wringing over sexual identity.
Throughout the book there is a sense that apocalyptic winds are gathering force all over Weldon's England: shadowy ''market forces'' are leveling picturesque villages to build ''development complexes'' infested with social dry rot; woozy New Age shrinks and astrologers are subverting the national discourse; rumors are swirling about a potion called Red Mercury that has shadowy origins in the Russian Mafia and the potential to polish off the world.
Weldon is a worthy adversary for these post-modern devils. Delivering a knockout blow to those old punching bags, touchy-feely therapists, she blames them for the casual shattering of marriages and for the delusive idea that family loyalties and relationships can be paved over or efficiently rerouted like England's M1 highway. In ''Santa Claus's New Clothes,'' the children and the grandchildren have their first Christmas dinner with Dr. Hetty Grainger, their father's former therapist and new wife, who ''murmured rather than spoke.'' Hetty hadn't thought twice about taking over Mum's house; she paused only in the master bedroom to ''perform some kind of ceremony with candles and incense which would, she said, deconsecrate the bed'' and ''free the material object from its person-past.'' Her mistake is to murmur over dinner about the ''civilized'' way the divorce and remarriage have proceeded. The remark elicits from her new 9-year-old stepson the fatal question, ''What's civilized?'' Hetty's fatuous answer opens up a hilariously deadpan inquisition by the other children that peels away her soothing earth-mother disguise to reveal the baby-eater underneath.
In the riotous and startlingly timely ''Not Even a Blood Relation,'' Weldon draws on some frisky revisionist science to help her protagonist defend hearth and home. Beverley Cowarth, 61, is the widow of Hughie, a recently deceased and bankrupt earl, and the mother of three angry adult daughters. And no wonder: the oldest, Edwina, was meant to be Edwin, the Cowarth male heir, and when she arrived, her parents ''just added on an 'a' and ignored her thereafter'' -- as they did with her sisters, Thomasina and Davida. Now the three plan to sell the ancestral home out from under their mother, who, in terms of the Cowarth family line, is ''not even a blood relation'' -- and far too old to produce a male heir, even if Hughie were still alive. But by enlisting the help of a much younger, adoring Australian fiance and the services of a very good Roman gynecologist, Beverley outwits them all -- making for a few delectable twists best left for Weldon fans to gloat over.
Other stories end in devastation, lost humanity and profound sadness. The graceful ''In The Great War (II)'' tells of a careless love triangle that exacts the suicide of two women and the death of a 6-year-old child. ''Web Central,'' one of the few heavy-handed stories here, takes on the terrors of futuristic isolation. It pictures a society whose privileged classes are sealed in solitary rooms, their moods regulated by drip feeds and their intercourse with the world conducted entirely on computer screens. And the powerful ''Heat Haze'' annihilates the idea that a child's agony over her parents' messy life can be managed and explained away like a nasty case of flu, with no one taking any blame. Deciding that someone must pay for the fallout from her father's admission of homosexuality and her mother's subsequent death, a young ballet dancer offers herself up -- refusing food and intimacy, and bartering her body -- to protect the remnants of family she has left.
With the year 2000 and its tidy string of zeroes reawakening our eternal longing for conclusive endings, Weldon's wrap-ups are eloquent and absolute. They are born of her belief in the dogged persistence of genetic bonds and in an uncompromising universe of clear rights and wrongs with their own inevitable consequences. With ''Wicked Women,'' Weldon has become one of the most cunning moral satirists of our time. In her rueful stories, justice is done -- whether we like it or not.

Deborah Mason is a critic and writer who lives in New York.


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    Writing at the Centre is an independent writing class conducted each Friday at the Fremantle Arts Centre, Print Room, upstairs in the main building.

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