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When Harriet Mahoney first sees it, Isabel Krug's bed is covered in sheared sheep and littered with celebrity biographies. Harriet's job is to ghost-write the story of Isabel's scandalous past, all of it tabloid heaven. From the author of The Way Men Act.
WINTER BEFORE LAST, a tea-leaf reader at a psychic fair looked into my cup and said she saw me living in a house with many beds and a big-mouth blonde. At the time it meant nothing to me. I was sharing a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan with a balding, malcontent boyfriend of twelve years, who said we'd get married if I conceived his child or when he felt like it. Since I was looking for literary prophecies -- that I'd write a best-seller or at least find an agent -- and because my tea-leaf reader wore, in a room full of gauzy peasantwear, a knock-off Chanel suit, I moved on to another booth.
Six weeks later, Kenny took me out to dinner at an expensive chef-owned restaurant and told me he was ambivalent about us. I said what I'd been saving for such an occasion -- that we were commonlaw spouses by now and he'd better get over his ambivalence.
"I met someone," he replied.
There went twelve years: my youth. In three months, he was married.
So at forty-one, feeling like eighty, I was looking for something -- a job, a friend, a hiding place where I could live out my days -- when I overheard a stranger on the subway confide to her seatmate, "There are no guarantees in this world, but chances are that people who take out ads in the New York Review of Books aren't idiots or crooks." I bought my first issue and read the personals for laughs, circling one or two that didn't ask for "pretty" or "vivacious" before my eyes wandered into "Share." And there it was, my answer, my job, my tea-leaf destiny:
Book in progress? While you're at it, why not share my Cape retreat? Gourmet kitchen, beach rights, wild blueberries. Considering lap pool. Roomy and peaceful: your life will be your own. Write me about your spectacular self. Room and board negotiable in exchange for services. Include writing sample. Box 8152.
"Harriet Mahoney," I heard between the lines, "Your troubles are over. Box 8152 will cure everything that's been wrong with your life." I could see myself, a better me, at this Cape retreat: at my typewriter, sharing thoughts and kitchen privileges with a kindred soul, baking wild blueberries into muffins.
In the past, I would have signed up for a course on pouring my heart into a cover letter, but I figured even prophecies had expiring deadlines. I had to write the letter of my life, threading my frayed self through the eye of the employment needle into the Yes pile; to find the silver lining in the fact that I'd spent my thirties unofficially engaged to a spoiled child; to put a good face on my B.A. in English from a defunct women's college, my two unpublished novels, and a string of secretarial jobs where I had learned to clear the paper path in all makes of copying machines.
So I wrote that for twelve years I had successfully shared quarters with a challenging roommate, that I was intelligent, considerate, and neat. I sent a laser-printed chapter from my first novel, American Apology, along with its best rejection letter ("competently written, at times even affecting") and a short story that my writing group insisted The New Yorker should have taken.
Although dozens of people applied, people with Ph.D.s and hardcover contracts, it was my letter that Isabel Krug liked best. "I didn't want any big shots," she told me later. "No prima donnas. You sounded normal."
She liked the "secretary" part. She wanted someone to ghostwrite her story, and she figured if it were a simple matter of channeling her voice through someone else's fingertips, why not a blunt set that typed 105 words a minute?
Over the phone she asked without apology how old I was, if I'd been in jail, if I had AIDS or the HIV virus, if I'd be squeamish about male visitors, and if I drove a stick.
It wasn't a tone I could stand forever, but it was offering what I needed. Assuming I had beat out the others on the strength of my prose and my suddenly spectacular self, I accepted ecstatically. Without meeting Isabel Krug. Without asking who else lived in this Cape retreat. Without asking what her story was.
Copyright © 1995 by Elinor Lipman
Posted February 25, 2014
This book is good,but I have to say it is quite boring. At first you can't put it down, but by the end you cant pick it up. I must praise the beginning. It is very interesting and I couldent put it down. By the end i have lost interest. I still have yet to pick up the half read book.
Posted March 21, 2010
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Now this was a great book -- some really quirky characters and an incredibly original plot really juiced up the urge to keep reading and to turn each page until the very end. I fell for the author's push for me to love certain characters, and dislike others, and I enjoyed the ride. A great book for traveling, beach reads, and your general desire to get away from it all and relax.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 11, 2006
Posted March 30, 2006
I loved the characters, but felt like the rug was pulled out from under me with the ending. The story line took an abrupt turn and none of the things it had been building to were concluded.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 11, 2005
I picked up this book at a BN and sat down on a Sunday night at about 7:00 pm and read it all the way through until about 3:00 am. It certainly was a page-turner. I was sad to see how the book ended though. Everything kind of climaxed a little late in the book and then sort of just ended with Harriet going in a totally different direction. I did enjoy the characters though, and couldn't put it down.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 4, 2003
I found myself loving Isabel from the beginning. Her rude and unapologetic ways left me feeling very at home. It was just great to pick up and read a cute little novel. It was charming.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 2, 2001
Posted January 5, 2001
I'll admit, it took a second reading for me to enjoy this book. After the first reading, I thought Harriet was sort of pathetic, although I loved the characters of Isabel and Pete. I'm not even sure why I read it again...but I'm glad I did, because I enjoyed it much more the second time! Perhaps it was the passage of time and the changing of goals in my own life that made me more sympathetic towards Harriet. Also, Lipman injects her characters with such great humor and humanity - especially Isabel, who is a delight in her strange way. I recommend giving this book a shot...and if you don't like it, try again in seven years!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 4, 2001
Isabel's Bed is one of the funniest, most enjoyable books I've ever read. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys contemporary fiction and really strong characters and dialouge.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 12, 2000
Tries to be titillating, but is sooooo borrrring.... I couldn't maintain an interest in any characters except that 'bad' boyfriend who kicked out the main character, and who could blame him? A directionless person at the crossroads of life? Could turn into something good, but instead, I wanted to slap Harriet, and say, 'Live your own life, you wuss!' Had there been an option to give no stars, I would have seized it. However, I must assign at least one star, so I will also concede that there were no spelling errors or typos.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 25, 2010
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Posted July 23, 2013
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Posted April 25, 2009
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