Susan Isaacs Jack Sullivan - Essay

Jack Sullivan

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The trouble with "page-turners" is that we often turn the pages quickly because they are awful. We are motivated not so much by "suspense" as by self-preservation.

In ["Compromising Positions"] however, we are motivated—at least for a while—by verbal dexterity and sheer cleverness….

Set on Long Island, the novel satirizes not only thrillers but also suburbia. The narrator is housewife Judith Singer, mother of two, who involves herself in a conventionally grisly, lurid murder mystery because it is "better than facing two weeks' accumulation of laundry" and it is "a change from Sesame Street and chicken pot pies."

It is also a change from a marriage in which the heroine's "usual I'm-not-in-the-mood signal is a mighty yawn as we ascend the stairs. At that moment, we achieve a tacit understanding and he heads for the pajama drawer." If there is an occasionally strident note of knee-jerk feminism in all this, Miss Isaacs' overall aim is so precise, her one-liners so wonderfully funny, that we can hardly complain….

This is deliciously mean stuff, and it is unfortunate that Miss Isaacs doesn't have the nerve to sustain it. She gradually allows her heroine to become bogged down in an elaborate murder case that is as tedious as her laundry and her husband. Miss Isaacs is so good in her opening scenes that when the tone moves from spoofery to straight ratiocination, we're simply not in the mood.

Jack Sullivan, "Solving a Murder Beats Doing Laundry," in The New York Times Book Review, April 30, 1978, p. 15.