Funny, irreverent, dark, and tender - a startling and sexy debut collection. Women (and men) cope with foreign marriages in Elena Lappin's shrewd domestic comedies of the absurd, set in London, New York, and a constellation of European and Israeli cities. Transplanted across oceans and ensconced in strange houses where appliances malfunction and husbands are not what they seem, women like Noa, Vera, and Paula settle into lives of persistently unfamiliar routine, stirred up from time to time with a very crooked stick. In 'Noa and Noah', Noa, an Israeli, has been married for two years before her English improves and she realizes that her British husband, Noah, is not a glamorous young businessman but a dull junior debt collector. In revenge she begins to frequent a nonkosher butcher-and that's just the beginning. Vera, a Russian, married to an unsuccessful British butler, takes to cab driving and extortion in 'Peacock'; Paula, a German, married to her dead best friend's husband, writes stories and snorts cocaine in 'Bad Writing'. With perfect pitch and a poker face, Lappin writes insidiously funny tales about love and survival in an international no-man's-land of marriage.
The jerky rhythms and brute candor of the 12 stories in Lappin's first collection arise from the imperfect, second-language English spoken by the author's brazen heroines. Sexually promiscuous and emotionally detached, these "foreign" women naturalize, even as the men they are involved with turn alien--by disappearing or proving themselves unknowable. Noa, of "Noa and Noah" (who is an Israeli, like many of Lappin's characters), thinks "**** that" to keeping kosher for the sake of her British husband, Noah--a supercilious, newly moneyed debt collector who picked her up in a Tel Aviv disco and moved her into his chrome-and-glass London flat. In Noa's halting English we learn that her husband's pillow talk is nothing more than a play-by-play of England soccer matches; frustrated and contemptuous, she begins an affair with Joe McElligot, a butcher whose non-kosher beef she serves to Noah nightly. In "Inhaling New York" the insatiable Sasha seduces Jack, a cold-fish British journalist whose one passion is Manhattan. When they move to London, Jack becomes a "polite, formal shell of a man." In this story, as elsewhere in the collection, flashes of violence engender intimacy: when Jack slaps Sasha (who, in her rebellion, has refused to select a name for their infant son) and she slaps him back, there is suddenly "bliss in the air." Lappin collapses time with a facility that can seem a little smug and too omniscient. This impulse to answer all the questions is most troublesome at these stories' ends. Often the bizarre, compelling and complex characters she creates unaccountably come to accept their lives in too-convenient fashion in the narrative's final paragraphs. The collection, nonetheless, winningly combines a deadpan brassiness with an observant and satirical restraint.