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IN BRIEF

NONFICTION : THE ADVENTURES OF STOUT MAMA by Sibyl James. (Papier-Mache Press: $14, 128 pp.)

August 01, 1993|KAREN STABINER

Stout Mama--a somewhat precious name for a gal who deserves better--is a middle-aged feminist who has made peace with her legs (she doesn't shave them) but not her toes (she still feels compelled to paint them). She seems the alter-ego of author James; both academics, both travelers, both proud of their politics at a time when "politically correct" has been diluted down to describe people who recycle their grocery bags. Stout Mama philosophizes on the world in snippy little essays, and refuses to cave in: she doesn't know what the initials in VCR stand for; she likes a fattening Chinese beer and a plate of doughy dumplings, "fried in rhythms of some other century, as stubbornly out of step as hearts." Some of these pieces are too cute by half, and irritatingly naive; her quick take on menopause seems obvious and shallow, her plan for revenge on a misbehaving lover starts out with great comic promise and then fizzles. These read too often like the offhanded observations of a very smart cookie who could use a little self-discipline. Only rarely do the ideas come forth shaped and groomed, the way good little essays should. Stout Mama can be provocative when she has her head on straight, but she's a bit too sloppy about her thought processes to be dependable.

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