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What is it with Weldon? Tart-talking modernity can't fill 21 novels, and why bother to use a (dead-white-male) thesaurus to enliven one's prose when, after all, you can spoon such profundities as: "She lived in a beautiful house, in a beautiful place. She was a widow." Besides that original adjective, there's always the f-and c-words to throw around. Weldon is salty, but it's the only spice in her rack, and that makes for a shriveled reading experience.
Worst Fears relates the story of Alexandra, an actress sometimes considered "a successor to Vanessa Redgrave," who is forced to confront her own worst fear -- that she's being cheated on by her husband, Ned. Weldon could have served this story up in the manner of a British Nora Ephron, or perhaps a femme David Lodge, but instead we're offered vapid characters, a little authorial moralizing and a soup of cliches. For instance, every character has affairs (Weldon leads us down the herpes trail several times). Promiscuity may be culturally indicative, as in a Schnitzler play, or juicy, as in "Melrose Place," but in Worst Fears it's just wearying: "Where she had seen him-and-her," writes Weldon, "Ned had seen him-and-her-her-her." Get us out of here-here-here.
It's hard to care much about cardboard Alexandra since she dumps her four-year-old son with her mother throughout, and seems to judge most people by their weight. In case you can still muster some sympathy for her -- after all, Ned dies during a tryst (real surprise) -- Weldon will have none of it. As one character mouths: "Actresses are not like real women at all. Make-believe females, with no centre, no soul, no capacity for real emotion." Unfortunately, you can say something similar about this novel. --Salon
Alexandra Ludd, a popular, talented actress, is devastated when she learns that husband Ned has died of a heart attack at their country home while she's been in London playing Nora in Ibsen's A Doll's House. Ned, a theater critic, and their four-year old son Sascha are everything to Alexandra—but when she comes down to identify the body, her world is turned upside down. She'd been told that Ned died downstairs and that the body had been discovered by two women: Abbie, an old friend, and Jenny Linden, a costume designer. Accused of being "a very unobservant person," Alexandra now discovers that Ned actually died in bed while he was making love to Abbie, and that he'd also had an affair with Jenny. Brother-in-law Hamish, who's there to help with funeral arrangements, also contributes some surprising comments about Ned. Stunned and outraged, Alexandra broods on what else might be revealed. But even her worst fears are not as bad as what she finds out: Ned not only betrayed her sexually and emotionally, but financially and legally as well. He spread nasty rumors about her, then left their beautiful old house and its lovingly collected contents to Jenny, though Alexandra had paid for most of it. On top of that, their marriage, it turns out, was illegal—Ned never divorced his first wife. Surrounded by treachery, Alexandra decides to concentrate on her "best hopes" of survival and vengeance, and this she does with gusto and panache, stopping at nothing because "there was no such thing as a defeat. If you didn't accept it."
Revenge exacted con brio by one of Weldon's most feisty wronged women yet.
Posted December 29, 1999