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In the Driver's Seat: Stories Hardcover – May 8, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Adulthood weighs heavily on the shoulders of well-heeled British marrieds with children in these 11 new stories by Simpson (Dear George), who extracts gentle pathos and humor from her aging characters as they despair of their narrowing futures. To a group of lithe young teens eavesdropping on an English couple with a new baby at a Mediterranean resort, the ghastly emotional neediness and flabby bodies of the adults seem grotesque and frightening. In "Every Third Thought," a mother of three daughters bemoans the unrelenting news of sickness among her friends—until a bus hits her (the story continues). Anxiety about the loss of romance and vitality leeches into "If I'm Spared," about a philandering husband who ceases his cheating to get treatment for lung cancer. There's a steadiness throughout, as when Simpson records the attachment of Zoe to her third and last child during their daily drive to school in "Early One Morning." The meandering last story, "Constitutional," is a meditation on mortality and memory that's literally a walk in the park, and it beautifully showcases Simpson's limpid prose and unforced deductions. (May)
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*Starred Review* From an English author, a stunningly imaginative collection of 11 short stories--with emphasis on short. These hard-edged but soft-centered pieces are equal parts humorous and satiric. They are the author's own perceptions of real life from unique, even odd perspectives. Simpson could not care less about offering tidy moral lessons on how life should be led. Her intention in these tough-as-nails yet poetically styled stories is to get us to laugh along with her at the silliness of human nature but also to laugh with her over the fact that she, and we as well, are all part of human nature's silliness. "The Door" concerns a woman replacing an important feature of her house--as well as of her sense of personal security--after a break-in and finding herself stepping through a psychological frontier of peacefulness as she locates someone to do the job. The collection's crown jewel is "Every Third Thought," which opens provocatively with the lines "It happened very fast, without warning. One day everybody started dying" and proceeds to mock people's obsession with other people's illnesses, which, of course, is rooted in the universal condition of schadenfreude. One character, in reflecting on how everyone in her particular social group seems to have fallen ill, concludes, "I put it down to dairy. And the pill. Cut out cheese and change to condoms, that's what I say!" Remarkable fiction. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
One of my favorites, "Early One Morning" describes a mother and her youngest son as they share time in the car on the way to school. They pick up a couple of other students and the mother chooses to let the kids talk to each other without adding her comments - thereby hearing things they might never think to say to an adult. While they talk, she also realizes that it won't be long before her son no longer needs these rides every day - that by age eleven he will be independently taking the bus. It's a sweet story and truthful to the way that kids act. The final moment is especially touching.
The title piece, "In the Driver's Seat," covers another ride in a car. This time the driver is the car owner's boyfriend-and he is driving too fast. The owner keeps asking him to slow down, but he is intent on showing off or showing power to both the owner and the story's narrator in the back seat. The narrator wonders if he is always like this - and wonders also about their relationship.
The original title piece, "Constitutional," is the ruminations of a teacher taking a walk around the neighborhood park on her lunch hour. She passes the same sights every day, but things change with the seasons. Different people are in the park each day, and she thinks about them as she walks by. She has it timed so that she can make the circle of her walk within her allotted time.
These are small, but thoroughly enjoyable stories.
(Originally published as Constitutional in London by Jonathan Cape, an imprint of Random House in 2005. First published in hard cover in the U.S. by Alfred A Knopf in 2007.)
Armchair Interviews says: Another book for the shelf of any lover of short stories.