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Book Review : A Woman Scorned Plays Her Vengeful Part Well

July 18, 1988|CAROLYN SEE

The Woman in the Picture by Viki Wright (Viking: $19.95; 385 pages)

There used to be an American actress called Susan Hayward, and she was a regular little spitfire. She'd swan about her movies, tossing her head full of golden-red curls and shouting out to a long line of leading men, "Don't touch me! Don't touch me!" But of course they all wanted to touch her. It was Hayward's way never to just settle down and kiss somebody. First he'd have to sock her! Then she'd have to sock him back! Then she'd toss her head full of golden-red curls! Then she and her leading man would slam into each other like wrestlers in the old days on Channel 5.

Rosemary Quilty, tempestuous wife and mother, has a "floating corona of red-gold curly hair teased, twisted, and fluffed out to look longer and more vigorous, more dangerous than its just-reached-the-shoulder length." She has a teen-age daughter, fact-finding Phyl, and Bobby, a young, handsome son who adores her. She also has a husband who does her wrong in a big way.

Daniel owns a computer firm and has a mistress. His mistress, Angela, spoils their 16th anniversary party. Rosemary won't speak to Daniel for at least six months, and won't keep his phone number around the house--even though they still have their children in common, and if little Bobby or Phyl were to be squashed by a car, their father might have to wait six months or so to find out about it.

Successful Business

Rosemary has been a child bride, and even though her daughter is 16, she herself is only 34. She has worked by Daniel's side throughout their marriage, so that his business, when he begins fooling around with Angela, that sleazy mistress, is very successful.

But here's what happens! The minute Rosemary goes into her "don't touch me" routine, Daniel's business begins to fail and we see in a series of flashbacks that Daniel has been a self-important, close-to-moronic twit, critical, neglectful of the children, stingy, but most of all violent. His and Rosemary's marriage has been, in fact, a series of fights and sex, fights and sex. (Susan Hayward could have gotten behind all that. She would have been perfect for the part.)

When a business tycoon (who makes estranged husband Daniel look like small potatoes) drives her home one night, Daniel, Neanderthal that he is, breaks her arm. It doesn't seem to bother Rosemary much. Aren't all ex-husbands like that?

She finally gets a job and after about three weeks' work it's something over $50,000. (The business tycoon is behind that in some way, you can bet.)

This is a revenge novel. Rosemary's husband is humiliated in his business world. (Rosemary may even lose the old family home because of his incompetence.) Also, his mistress is pregnant and suffers morning sickness all day long. That's what happens to philandering husbands who go around breaking their wives' arms.

Rosemary is one weird dudette. Even though the liquidators are hounding her, and her husband's snippy financial secretary is keeping her and the kids on a diet of hamburger, close reading of this novel reveals that indeed, in one year, Rosemary only deigns to work that three weeks.

Groceries and Art

We read long paragraphs on grocery shopping. On what good taste Rosemary has in art. On how talented she is at interior decorating. Or how--though she's a seething mass of sensuality--she never never goes to bed with any man, because, well, you wouldn't catch Susan Hayward going to bed with just anybody. Don't touch me is the watchword. Again, when you look closely at all this, Rosemary won't talk to people she doesn't like; she signs contracts without reading them, she's always leaving word that she's not home, and when she meets a good man, she can't stand the fact that he wears red socks.

But those golden-red curls keep bouncing, and her girlfriends (both a career girl and a wife) are not very happy, and everybody takes care of Rosemary, and everything works out OK. Life under the blow dryer! Everybody's doing it--except for real human beings, of course.

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