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Playing with Fire

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A first novel with strong autobiographical overtones, this fledgling effort needed more capable editing to achieve its potential. Although Shapiro shows promise as a writer, too often she falls victim to overwrought, self-indulgent prose and a myriad of cliches. Narrator Lucy Greenburg, the blond, blue-eyed offspring of an Orthodox Jewish family that boasts a long line of revered rabbis, immediately falls under the spell of her Smith College roommate, a quintessential WASP. Carolyn Ward is beautiful, enigmatic and controlling; Lucy idolizes her finishing-school poise and perpetual tan, which Carolyn maintains by mysteriously disappearing from Smith for weeks at a time. She also awakens in Lucy a feverish sexual longing, which Lucy sublimates with a passion equally as strong--an affair with Carolyn's stepfather, construction tycoon Ben Broadhurst. Ben's influence gets Lucy a screen test, a career as a TV commercial model and her first movie. But the end of her dissolute life as Ben's mistress, a dramatic announcement by Carolyn (the ostensible plot bombshell has been telegraphed to the reader early on) and a family tragedy leave Lucy bereft of dreams, sadder but wiser at 22. Flashes of talent enliven Shapiro's often bathetic prose, especially when Lucy evokes the members of her religious family. This novel will probably fare well commercially, but one expects Shapiro to write a better book next time. (June)
Library Journal
With situations that modernize some classic themes, this first novel is a moving, heartfelt tale of family, friendship, love, and maturity. Reminiscent in some ways of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited , the novel takes Lucy Greenberg from naive adolescence to disillusioned adulthood, and leaves her in control of her life--although that life isn't exactly picture perfect. Lucy breaks from family traditions when she leaves for college, and her friendship with well-to-do Carolyn Ward throws her into a tempestuous relationship with Carolyn's stepfather, Ben. Lucy's life spirals out of control until her family is touched by tragedy; then she is forced to take control of her destiny for the first time. Just shy of being melodramatic, the novel uses powerful language and intelligent imagery to communicate Lucy's evolution. The book seems somewhat autobiographical and is very effective, although there are a few loose ends--perhaps another comment on how life can be.-- Heidi Schwartz, ``Business Interiors,'' Red Bank, N . J .
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385267229
  • Publisher: The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/1/1990
  • Pages: 320

Meet the Author

Dani Shapiro
Dani Shapiro
Dani Shapiro's honest, thought-provoking books -- from the bestselling memoir Slow Motion to stirring domestic dramas like Family History -- illuminate the meaning behind the seemingly everyday trials of "normal" lives. The Los Angeles Times touts her talents as an "abundantly emotional writer with a deep understanding of life’s banal blessings."


Dani Shapiro is the author of four acclaimed novels, Playing with Fire, Fugitive Blue, and Picturing the Wreck, and Family History, and the bestselling memoir Slow Motion. She teaches in the graduate writing program at The New School, and has written for The New Yorker, Granta, Elle, and Ploughshares, among other magazines. She lives with her husband and son in Litchfield County, Connecticut.

Author biography courtesy of Random House.

Good To Know

In out interview, Shapiro shared some interesting anecdotes about her life with us:

"One of the stranger things about me is that I was raised as an Orthodox Jew. I went to a yeshiva until I was thirteen years old, and spoke fluent Hebrew. I no longer can speak Hebrew, though I suppose it would come back if I immersed myself in it."

"I used to act in television commercials when I was a kid and a young adult."

"I've never had a ‘real job'. Well, that's not entirely true. I spent a week as an executive assistant at an advertising agency after I graduated from college -- it's the thing that propelled me back into graduate school, to get my M.F.A. And also, I sold cubic zirconia (fake diamonds) over the phone when I was in high school. Phone sales. Talk about rejection!"

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    1. Hometown:
      Bethlehem, Connecticut
    1. Date of Birth:
      April 10, 1962
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Sarah Lawrence College, 1987, M.F.A., 1989

Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2007


    I thought this was a very interesting novel. It deals with a young girl lucy growing into a young woman. Lucy goes off to college and there she meets her new room mate carolyn ward. Carolyn takes her on a walk of sexual awaking. The two gets a taste of each other, and there things start to get a little weird. Lucy then begins a relationship with carolyn's stepfather, and while all of this is happening lucy, must deal with and over over all of her family issues. I think you will enjoy this book. It is this author's first novel. And i think she did a pretty good job.

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