(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Medusa’s Ankles” presents a third-person narrative featuring Susannah, a literary scholar who frequents a hair salon featuring a print of the Pink Nude by the French artist Henri Matisse. The story relates Susannah’s recognition of middle age. Her ongoing relationship with her hairdresser Lucian underscores her physical decline and brings Susannah literally to the breaking point.

Susannah was first attracted to Lucian’s salon when she noticed the Matisse artwork through the plate-glass window. Cautious at first, she allows the salon owner to cut and blow-dry her hair. Susannah gradually finds a sense of ease in the salon, which looked like “the interior of a rosy cloud.” The colors embodied in the Matisse nude, comforting shades of pink, blue, and cream, are reproduced in everything from the muslin curtains to the combs, brushes, and coffee cups.

Susannah enters the salon after decades of wearing a long, straight style because her hair is becoming lifeless. Its ends are split, broken, and frizzed. She is pleased to find the business of hair care greatly advanced from the 1950’s when her mother’s generation emerged from beauty parlors with artificial curls rolled, fried, and teased into place. Lucian wins Susannah’s trust by giving her hair a short, bouncy cut. He assures her that the new style is “natural-looking,” and Susannah takes his term to mean “young.”

Her relationship with Lucian becomes somewhat one-sided, however. She does not confide in him, yet he confides in her. She observes that he is shallow and faddish....

(The entire section is 651 words.)