I think I am unfair when judging short stories. Probably because I don't like short stories very much. My usual review would sound something like this: "they were alright, those stories. Only problem was that they were short".
I said it before and I will say it again - writing short stories is no joke. If you want to write short stories because you are too lazy to write 'long stories', then maybe you should write washing detergents advertising slogans instead. They are short, too. In short stories you have to have everything you would have in a normal size novel, only you only have a few pages to cram it in. There is no room for the blabbering you would get away with in the middle of the book. You have to be balanced and precise.
'Consitutional' is only 128 pages long. I find it quite outrageous that you can write a 128 page long collection of stories, call it a book, and charge the full price. But that's beside the point.
The biggest problem I had with this collection was the it was so stereotypical. Philandering husbands, worn-out wives whose children are their only reason for existence. I have read it so many times in so many variants that I just cannot be impressed anymore. The worst story in the collection was the one about the selfish, cheating and chain-smoking husband and his devoted, slightly boring, selfless wife. When he finds out he has cancer, he vows to change his ways, all of a suddens discovers how good his wife has been to him, and what's important in life. Then he learns he was misdiagnosed and it is not cancer after all. So he is back to his old ways right away. I think this story shold go under wiki definition of the word 'cliche'.
Helen Simpson's favourite way of writing short stories is to send her characters on a lunch hour walk, school run, etc., and then bathe the readers in their resulting streams of consciousness. I think that's cheating. That's not even a story, that's rambling.
There is 5 star story in the collection that pulled this book out of two-stardom. "The Tree" was the only story that stood out and I felt was truly original. It was short and beautiful. And for once, Simpson stayed away from her beloved stereotypes (I mean, the main character did leave his wife and kids for a younger woman, but that's it).
I was now going to go on about how I could totally write something like that over one weekend and then receive glorious reviews from both Guardian and Independent and wouldn't life be grand, but at this point this review is almost as long as the book reviewed, so high time to wrap it up.