Friday, November 9, 2012

Compromising Positions

1978, 1979 Jove edition
Susan Isaacs
Compromising Positions
Original price $6.99, purchase price $3.00
Worn paperback

I discovered Isaacs through a sort of indirect route.  I read a couple positive reviews (by Pauline Kael and Kathi Maio, both of whom we'll be getting to eventually) of the Susan Sarandon movie based on this book, but I think I read the book before I actually saw the movie, which I recall as a pretty good adaptation.  Interestingly, Isaacs adapted her own novel for the screen, and she changed the central romance, in my opinion improving it.  There are three problems with heroine Judith Singer's affair with cop Nelson Sharpe.  One, he has what must be the most unattractive nose I've ever encountered in a fictional lead, snub and even babyish.  Two, sometimes their bantering crosses over into actual hostility.  And three, there are a lot of issues with Singer's marriage and none of these are resolved even at the end, so it's no time for her to be starting up a fling (or more) with the policeman who's officially investigating the murder that she's amateurly (but competently) sleuthing all over the neighborhood about.  In the movie, Judith is involved with the much sexier and more likable Raúl Juliá, and they don't have a full-fledged affair.

The first half of the book, where Judith is snooping around unassisted, except by her reluctant friend Nancy, is much better, and would've earned a B+ on its own.  The novel remains funny, although very much a story of its time.  I like that it's Judith's boredom as a housewife that fuels her interest in the tawdry details of the victim's life and death.  Her husband is a sexist clod, although he is right in a way that she shouldn't be risking her life to catch a murderer.  The setting of Long Island, suburbia close to the glamor and excitement of New York City, matters, as does the Jewishness of the Singers and some of the other characters.  It comes as no surprise that Isaacs was a Long Island housewife, and her heroine's name suggests her own.  ("Susan" and "Judith" share vowel sounds, and Singer evokes Isaac Bashevis Singer.)  I'll talk about this more with the next of her novels, but there seems to be a degree of wish-fulfillment in her mysteries, with their middle-aged (or nearly) heroines with imperfect but good bodies, who find devoted lovers.

In fact, Judith will return in Long Time, No See (2001), which I've read but don't own.  I was disappointed with the reunion of Judith and Nelson, as well as the resolution of their marriages.  I can't recall anything about the mystery, unlike the one here about a philandering periodontist.

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