By Helen Zahavi (Cleis Press; 1991)
What we have here is essentially a feminist minded DEATH WISH, although this novel presents itself as something far deeper. It’s drafted in a highly self-conscious literary style that freely alternates first, second and third person narration, and comes complete with some mighty haughty blurbs (my favorite being the one from the Sunday Tribune proclaiming “one would prefer it had been released for private reading only, among women only, and highly feminized women at that, before making it available to the general public”), but I say it’s entirely appropriate that the 1993 film adaptation of DIRTY WEEKEND was directed by DEATH WISH helmer Michael Winner, as the material is uniquely suited to the type of exploitation fare in which Winner specialized.
The narrative is simple enough: it involves Bella, a mousey English woman who decides one day that she’s “had enough.” The catalyst for her rage is an obnoxious neighbor named Timothy who’s always sexually harassing her. After impulsively bashing Timothy’s head in with a hammer Bella decides to broaden her scope, embarking on a full-scale killing rampage.
This involves purchasing a gun, which isn’t easy to do in England, and leads to a passage that reads like an NRA talking point: “Damn all the legislators and their well-protected privacy. Damn them to Hell and back, and damn their lousy gun licenses.” Nevertheless, Bella manages to (illegally) procure a firearm, which she uses to off several men. She finds different, more creative ways to kill others, culminating in a vicious stabbing on a beach. All this is fairly graphically described, but since Bella’s victims are all scumbag rapists their deaths are never especially troubling (the implication, of course, is that all men are potential rapists).
To be sure, author Helen Zahavi has a flair for demented invention, as exemplified by the following second person passage, describing Bella running over a scumbag: “You move the car back, and it goes over something soft…and you go forward again. And back again. And each time the hump feels slightly different. Slightly lower. Slightly softer.” I just wish the proceedings were a little less pretentious.