Switch Bitch

Switch Bitch - Roald Dahl hey did you know that acclaimed children's author Roald Dahl also had a sideline in dark, pervy short stories for adults? after reading several reviews of this book, it's clear that some people find this to be awfully disturbing. my God, a children's author, capable of such things! heaven forfend!

oh you silly humans with your hilarious way of looking at things. although I shouldn't be judgmental. back on Robot Planet, we have long moved beyond such rudimentary binary coding - and perhaps you will too, eventually, post-invasion. it will be one of our mandates.

Switch Bitch (man, that title: perfect!) is a quartet of thematically connected tales. sex and sexuality are central to each of these stories - particularly sex that is ambiguous or disguised or that happens for reasons beyond our intellectual control. or for reasons that stem from our need for intellectual control. Dahl is a clever writer, and more. although his cleverness and humor shine brightly (well, "darkly" is probably more appropriate), he also knows how to craft a beautiful description, an evocative turn of phrase, sentences that glide effortless into one other, a character that jumps off the page, a situation that intrigues and disturbs and surprises. he's an artist with the prose. even rather fussy at times, in his choice of details. he's also a little dangerous, which should not shock fans of his kid's fiction. he wants to make you laugh, sure, but he also wouldn't mind stabbing you in the back as you chortle spastically away. he's the best kind of misanthrope: amused, amusing, discriminating, and devious.

I've put this on my "sexathon" shelf, but you should know that it does not contain any graphic sexuality. everything is (nearly) left up to your own imagination.

4 Stars for the first tale: "The Visitor"
here we have a perfectly awesome and awful protagonist, the sophisticated world traveler and insidious casanova Uncle Oswald. Dahl captures his drily witty, hygiene-obsessed, caustically classist voice perfectly. Oswald is a grand storyteller, a well-read art collector, a wealthy man who prefers the company of other wealthy people. he is also a collector of spiders and scorpions! this practically psychopathic lothario is not so much misogynistic as he is utterly incapable of even recognizing a woman's worth beyond her beauty and beyond the maximum 8 hours he will spend with that woman before becoming indescribably bored and, oh dear, time to move on my love, that was wonderful on top of the pyramid tonight, wasn't it, so sorry to hear that your sheik husband may have to cut off your head because of our affair, but darling you really are becoming a rather vulgar bore with all of your pleading and screaming, I think I shall have to let you out right on the corner, farewell my dear! happily, Uncle Oswald's adventures lead him to a stately mansion in the middle eastern desert, where he finds a Syrian family more than capable of matching wits with him. this is a brilliant and incredibly fun tale. I loved it. I especially enjoyed the wee tale within a tale - about a boy addicted to honey - that mordantly parallels Uncle Oswald's own addiction. and I especially especially loved the cruel and fitting ending.

3 Stars for the second tale: "The Great Switcheroo"
two cheerio my good chap type suburban husbands decide that the best way to spice up their lives is to start sleeping with each other's wives - but without telling those wives. sexy suburban shenanigans ensue. plus a wonderfully deflating blow to the male ego at no extra cost.

2 Stars for the third tale: "The Last Act"
I'm sure this deserves more stars, but I just can't. I hated this story. it starts sensitively, detailing the life of a new widow who was devoted to her husband. of the four stories, this one is resolutely not comic. Anna Cooper starts off sad and sympathetic, and it was a real pleasure watching her grow back into herself and embrace life again. and so I did not appreciate the brutal evilness of this story's ending. it felt cheap and it was depressing. one can't fault the prose itself, it is excellent. and the thematic connections to the other three stories are there too - disguise and surprise and a reprise - so I get why this story was included. I just don't get why it was written in the first place. ugh.

3 Stars for the fourth tale: "Bitch"
Uncle Oswald is back and he has found an equally pervy comrade-in-arms: the olfactory scientist Henri, who is about to create a scent for women that will cause men to go in a sex-trance, rip off their clothes, and immediately and violently ravish the scented woman on the spot. Oswald and Henri have sinister plans for this scent, oh yes they do! ::rubs hands together villainously:: and those plans include the American President, of whom Oswald is not overly-fond. this being Roald Dahl, things don't quite come to fruition in the way these two villains imagined. ha!

the book has a Terry Southern feel to it. not in its prose - Dahl is the superior wordsmith - but in its distinctly dated feeling of being born in a milieu that is all too comfortable with casual sexism. a book the characters in Mad Men could be seen reading. but I would not actually call this a misogynist book. the women are not treated particularly well - although a few of them have the last laugh, which is certainly appreciated - but the men never have the last laugh. the men become fools, their plans backfire, their tricks turn around and bite them right where it hurts - in their so-called manhood.