The Cloning of Joanna May

Or is it the cloning of Fay Weldon? With a consistency that predates her 1984 novel, The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, Weldon once again weaves a chilly scenario of the innate incompatibility of man and woman. ”Woman makes man bad,” says Carl May, the antihero of this anti-romance. If so, woman doesn’t have much fun doing it. Carl’s ex-wife, Joanna, sees herself as ”the wretched fly” in their relationship.

By now even Weldon must be tiring of her war-between-the-mates outline. This time she’s coated it with an Adam and Eve theme that warns of the consequenccs awaiting humans who dabble in God’s domain. ”To impersonate God is a terrible thing,” Joanna May says. But Carl, a nuclear power plant director and all-around He-Devil, does just that. He giveth life — by secretly cloning Joanna while she thinks she’s having an abortion — and he taketh it away — by poisoning her dogs and of ng a couple of her lovers.

In She-Devil, Weldon’s ”heroine” transforms herself into a replica of her husband’s lover (a plot lost in the movie: maybe not even Hollywood could turn Roseanne into Meryl). In Joanna May, the 60-year-old title character is cloned in quadruplicate and irked by the 30-year-old ”thefts from me, these depletings of my ‘I’.”

Readers may be similarly irked by Weldon’s rehashed recipe of preternaturally cold characters acting out a litany of nastiness. Husbands hate wives, mothers hate daughters, men are messianic, and God has fled. The attempt to use a New Testament analogy is laughably labored. ”If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out” is ultimately rendered ”If thine eye offend me, take a good look at yourself. If thine I offend thee, change it.” The Baltimore Catechism is better reading. C-

The Cloning of Joanna May
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