Sue Kaufman Essay - Critical Essays

Kaufman, Sue (Vol. 3)

Kaufman, Sue 1926–

An American novelist, Ms. Kaufman is best known for The Diary of a Mad Housewife. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

The familiar genre of [Falling Bodies]: Every Nacht is Walpurgisnacht in the East Sixties. Its equally familiar subgenre is Highly Intelligent Young Upper Middle-Class Married Woman With a Screw Loose Wobbles About Manhattan In State of Distraction, Nervously Hailing Taxicabs. If that seems to cut sub-genres rather fine, novels exactly fitting the description have been appearing every six weeks or so for several years now. In fact, the Nervously Hailing Taxicabs category is as easily recognizable as that now defunct tribe of novel, popular in the '50s, in whiih young men in gray flannel suits brooded about whether the ad biz was worth it.

The narrator of Falling Bodies is Emma Sohier, once a brilliant student of literature at Radcliffe, now alas, sunk in apartment-wifery. Emma has sat a deathwatch as her mother died horribly, then she herself spent a month in the hospital with a mysterious fever. While there, she saw the body of a suicide plunge by her window. She cannot make herself walk the city for fear that some body will land on her head.

The author also wrote Diary of a Mad Housewife. Her fine, deadpan humor this time lies in the narrator's calm assumption that these hideosities, and others, are quite normal.

John Skow, "Fun City," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; © 1974 by Time Inc.), January 21, 1974, pp. 74, 77.

A ripped and crumpled family photograph decorates the dust jacket of this new and fifth novel [Falling Bodies] by Sue Kaufman, author of "Diary of a Mad Housewife." Another book about the breakdown and impossibility of marriage/family/parenthood? Not so. This is yet another book about the plight of the housewife–no feminist tract, but a mocking portrayal of female ineffectuality. Impossible, even irresponsible in 1974? Almost. Funny at least? Scarcely….

This book is supposed to be comic (more gray than black humor, actually), but it is so crudely articulated that the jokes fall flat. Everyone talks too much; Kaufman explains too much. The few sex scenes were so obviously problems for Kaufman that she reduces them to four-line quickies. None of the characters has any real substance. The prose is colorless and limp. The book reads like the story-line for a screenplay….

Reading this Soon-To-Be-A-Major-Motion-Picture book is like watching summer reruns of grade-B situation comedy. What one can tolerate in 98-degree weather, when one's brains have turned to steaming mashed potatoes, makes for a cold plate of leftovers in the winter. Please, Sue Kaufman, no more mad housewives, no more books about passive, neurotic women and creeps who pass for men—Carrie Snodgrass and Richard Benjamin have done it already. How about something really funny—we could all use a few laughs. And how about Woody Allen for the part of Benjy?

Lore Dickstein, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 3, 1974, p. 7.