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Worst Fears

Worst Fears

3.0 1
by Fay Weldon

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From the hilarious opening to the satisfying final conflagration, Fay Weldon's Worst Fears is a taut, scathing revelation of the nature of marital intimacy. When Alexandra returns from her stint on the London stage to find her husband mysteriously dead of a heart attack and her female friends ominously invested in smoothing out all the complications of the tragedy,


From the hilarious opening to the satisfying final conflagration, Fay Weldon's Worst Fears is a taut, scathing revelation of the nature of marital intimacy. When Alexandra returns from her stint on the London stage to find her husband mysteriously dead of a heart attack and her female friends ominously invested in smoothing out all the complications of the tragedy, she begins to be suspicious. At first she attributes this to grief, then to paranoia. But she soon finds herself starting to crack, crank-calling her friends' psychiatrist, attacking people with kitchen chairs and breaking into their houses, searching furiously for evidence to confirm her husband's rampant adultery and her own worst fears. "A snappy whodunit of the heart....one of Weldon's best novels yet." -- The New York Times Book Review; "With a dash of murder mystery and a wink at Isben's grim tales of ruined marriages, this splendid and spiteful novel shows Fay Weldon to be in as fine form as ever." -- The Philadelphia Inquirer; "A hundred years hence, if people can still read, Weldon's books will likely have the unblunted edge of Jane Austen, an unsentimental Baedeker guide to sexual manners in an ill-mannered age. Fay Weldon breaks taboos like tape at a marathon, and she hasn't stopped running yet." -- Los Angeles Times.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In Weldon's fictional universe, a character's worst fears are often not the half of it: the horrific reality of the situations in which her protagonists find themselves often go beyond anything they could have imagined. This is certainly true of Alexandra Ludd, a successful stage actress who is performing in Ibsen's A Doll's House when her husband, Ned, a theater critic, dies in their country house. Alexandra takes a leave of absence from the London production, only to find that her friends in the country all seem to be engaged in some kind of cover-up regarding the circumstances of Ned's death. It gradually becomes clear to Alexandra that her husband lived a very different and more promiscuous life than she'd ever suspected. As always, Weldon's fast-paced black comedy is as compulsively readable as it is unpleasant, but Alexandra's utter failure to have perceived any hint of her husband's real nature makes her remarkably unobservant, and her treatment of their son, Sascha, makes her seem outright cold-blooded, while those around her are malicious and spiteful to the point of sadism. The plot, which essentially adheres to Murphy's law with only a couple of unpredictable detours, lacks the cleverness or complexity to be found in such previous Weldon books about women scorned as The Lives and Loves of a She-Devil and Trouble. But even average Weldon is full of delights, and admirers of her witty malevolence will find much here to enjoy loathing. (June)
Library Journal
When Weldon (Splitting, LJ 4/15/95) writes a novel about marriage, death, friendship, and adultery, we are assured a witty dissection of all that we hold near and dear. Alexandra is performing on the London stage when she receives word of her husband Ned's sudden death from a heart attack. She returns home to find her closest friends tidying up the details of his mysterious death. Is grief making Alexandra paranoid, or is there something strange about her friends visiting the morgue before she does? And why is the plump, plain Jenny Linden wailing outside her window, claiming to be Ned's true love? When even the dog turns on her, Alexandra goes a little crazy and breaks into Jenny's house searching for evidence. Confronted with the truth that her picture-perfect marriage was perfect only in her eyes, Alexandra falls apart. Only when all around her turn against her and she stands to lose everything does Alexandra pull herself together and take control. Playing on the reader's worst fears, Weldon has spun a web of humor and horror, humiliation and revenge that's not to be missed. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/96.]-Kathy Ingels Helmond, Indianapolis-Marion County P.L., Ind.
Katherine Whittemore
Worst fear, alright -- being stuck with Fay Weldon's new book this summer. By all means, use "Worst Fears" to shade your eyes, or anchor your towel, but don't read the thing. Kelp is more alive and affirming. The jacket copy claims Weldon's 21st novel is "an irresistible blend of compassionate wisdom and deliciously nasty wit," but actually it's sheer sourness spiked with fall-flat, jokesy prose. Proof: "The quick and the dead." She was quick and Ned was dead." More proof: "She felt empowered, as would a witch who had just stolen the clippings from her enemy's toenails."

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

Kirkus Reviews
Weldon, chronicler extraordinaire of the war between the sexes (Splitting, 1995, etc.), is back, this time to give us a wickedly funny take on widowhood as an aggrieved woman gleefully avenges herself on both the living and the dead.

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.

Product Details

Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
Weldon, Fay
Product dimensions:
5.74(w) x 8.14(h) x 0.56(d)

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Worst Fears 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A great read. Didn't put it down. Jenny Linden had a different name in the British version.