A couple of years ago it was the done thing to wail about the number of self-indulgent English novels about Hampstead angst. Look at America, it was said, with some justification. Why can’t we be as cosmopolitan as them? Well, the time has come for a new outcry: why oh why oh why is every other American book we read about bohemian Manhattan’s angst?
Susan Minot’s first book of short stories (her first book, the novel Monkeys, came out to stupendous critical acclaim) deals almost exclusively with this subject. Its characters are painters, actors, radical lawyers, journalists and writers, and therefore the action takes place at dinner parties, art galleries, lofts, lunches and museums. The stories share the same themes: the separateness of men and women, the impossibility of meaningful and lasting intercourse (sexual and emotional), the blind-alleys of the human heart. Women, especially, have a very hard time in this respect, perpetually barking up the wrong tree, getting the wrong end of the stick and running down affectional cul-de-sacs. Men are presented as brooding, dominating, self-absorbed and Ted Hughes-like, ‘Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em’ figures.