July 25, 2011

Book Review: THE LIFE AND LOVES OF A SHE DEVIL by Fay Weldon

BOOK DESCRIPTION:  This is not a book for everyone, but its admirers are vigorously enthusiastic. For example:
Rhoda Koenig in New York Magazine, who calls it ". . . a novel of blazingly hot revenge, one that amply illustrates the saying about heaven having no rage like love turned to hate, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned." 
Or Rosalyn Drexler, who said on the front page of The New York Times Book Review, "It affords a scintillating, mindboggling, vicarious thrill for any reader who has ever fantasized dishing out retribution for one wrong or another."
Or Carol E. Rinzler, who wrote on The Washington Post Book World's front page, ". . . what makes this a powerfully funny and oddly powerful book is the energy of the language and of the intellect that conceived it, an energy that vibrates off the pages and that makes SHE-DEVIL as exceptional a book in the remembering as in the reading . . . . a small, mad masterpiece."

I picked up this book from my local library thinking it would be the literary equivalent of the 1989 movie with Meryl Streep and Roseanne Barr.  I love the movie with inexcusable glee - - it's a guilty pleasure, the revenge is wonderfully satisfying and Meryl Streep is incredible, as always.  Unfortunately I was sorely mistaken.

First, the book is quite different from the movie.  Or perhaps I should say that the movie is quite different from the book, since the book came first.  I felt sympathy for the movie version of Ruth.  She was unattractive (although not the towering giant as portrayed in the book) and put upon by her husband, who had absolutely no problem being unfaithful.  Despite destroying her husband's life one calculated step at a time, you still want movie Ruth to succeed and best not only cheating Bob but also the annoyingly pink romance author Mary Fisher who embarks on an affair with Bob.  

Not so with the literary Ruth, who comes across as cold, uncaring and almost sociopathic.  In other words, completely unsympathetic.  Her actions felt extreme, to say the least, from the destruction of the family home, leaving a pet inside, to abandoning her children to the care of their cheating father and his mistress, who was hardly maternal, to her almost casual and callous attitude toward sex post-split.  I felt absolutely no bond or connection with her whatsoever, nor did I understand what drove her.  

The plot could have been a fantastic one - - betrayed wife seeks revenge.  It could have been a serious book or a tongue-in-cheek, campy styled one.  Either would have worked but The Life and Loves of a She Devil doesn't seem to know which direction it should take - - serious cautionary tale or humorous tale of love gone wrong?   Not knowing what direction to take left me, as the reader, in the same state of confusion.

I expected that The Life and Loves of a She Devil would be humorous, witty and cutting.  It was certainly cutting but the wit and humor was lacking.  Scenes that were funny in the movie came across flat out mean in the book (if they were included in the book).  For me, I simply did not enjoy reading about Ruth, who was allegedly symbolizing the liberated and independent female of the age (late 70s/early 80s), acting more like a felon than a strong woman.  By the end of the book, I simply didn't like her.

Had I not seen She Devil and adored the movie for its late 80s overblown silliness, I likely would not have finished the book.  The first chapter drew me in but I quickly lost interest.  I persevered and finished the book but only because I continued to hope that the story would improve.  

I personally did not care for the book and would not recommend it.  If you are looking for a wife's revenge tale, The First Wives Club might be a better choice.  However, I would not hesitate to recommend She Devil for its guilty pleasure and the always impressive Meryl Streep. 

FTC Disclosure: This book was borrowed from my local public library. I was neither compensated nor paid in any way for this review.

From the 1989 She Devil:

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