With this bittersweet, engaging novel, Wolitzer ( Sleepwalking and Hidden Pictures ) again demonstrates her skill at depicting the inevitable love-hate of human relationships. Her prose is seductive, with an elegiac strain, yet there is wry humor in this tale of an obese TV comedienne and her two daughters. Capitalizing on her weight, divorcee Dottie Engels has achieved stardom and financial security for Erica and Opal, who munch junk food as they watch their mother's shows in the company of the aspiring comics Dottie hires as babysitters. Against stereotype, Dottie is a warm and loving, albeit absent mother, but the strains caused by her celebrity, the pressures of growing up in Manhattan in the '70s and the mysteries of their own adolescent bodies turn the girls into very different people. Depressed, overweight Erica is obsessed with the largeness of her body; Opal is fixated on establishing contact with her father, who remains stubbornly unresponsive to her letters. Opal idolizes Dottie; Erica resents her. Eventually the sisters grow apart, but Dottie brings them back together in a poignant way. Wolitzer has a fine grasp of adolescent sensibilities and lingo, and her acute takes on the foibles of upperclass New Yorkers are strikingly apt. But the core of the novel is her understanding of mother-daughter and sibling relationships, her feel for the sad limbo of fractured families, and her knowledge that ``every family has their own secret.'' (October)
Not one to dally, Meg Wolitzer graduated from Brown University in 1981 -- and published her debut novel, Sleepwalking, the following year. Since then, she's written several more novels, as well as short stories and screenplays, and has taught writing at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop and Skidmore College.
Meg Wolitzer grew up around books. Her mother, Hilma Wolitzer, published two novels while Meg was still in school, and weekly trips to the library were a ritual the entire family looked forward to. Not surprisingly, Meg served as editor for her junior high and high school literary magazines. She graduated from Brown University in 1981. One year later, she published her debut novel, Sleepwalking, the story of three college girls bonded by an unhealthy fascination with suicidal women poets. It marked the beginning of a successful writing career that shows no sign of slacking.
Over the years, Wolitzer has proven herself a deft chronicler of intense, unconventional relationships, especially among women. She has explored with wit and sensitivity the dynamics of fractured families (This Is Your Life, The Position); the devastating effects of death (Surrender, Dorothy), the challenges of friendship (Friends for Life), and the prospective minefield of gender, identity, and dashed expectations (Hidden Pictures, The Wife, The Ten-Year Nap).
In addition to her bestselling novels, Wolitzer has written a number of screenplays. Her short fiction has appeared in The Best American Short Stories and The Pushcart Prize, and she has also taught writing at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop and at Skidmore College.
Good To Know
In our exclusive interview, Wolitzer shared some fun and fascinating facts about herself:
"First of all, I am obsessed with playing Scrabble. It relaxes me between fits of writing, and I play online, in a bizarro world of anonymous, competitive players. It's my version of smoking or drinking -- a guilty pleasure. The thing is, I love words, anagrams, wordplay, cryptic crossword puzzles, and anything to do with the language."
"I also love children's books, and feel a great deal of nostalgia for some of them from my own childhood (Harriet the Spy and The Phantom Tollbooth among others) as well as from my children's current lives. I have an idea for a kids' book that I might do someday, though right now my writing schedule is full up."
"Humor is very important to me in life and work. I take pleasure from laughing at movies, and crying at books, and sometimes vice versa. I also have recently learned that I like performing. I think that writers shouldn't get up at a reading and give a dull, chant-like reading from their book. They should perform; they should do what they need to do to keep readers really listening. I've lately had the opportunity to do some performing on public radio, as well as singing with a singer I admire, Suzzy Roche, formerly of the Roches, a great group that started in 1979. Being onstage provides a dose of gratification that most writers never get to experience."
"But mostly, writing a powerful novel -- whether funny or serious, or of course both -- is my primary goal. When I hear that readers have been affected by something I've written, it's a relief. I finally have come to no longer fear that I'm going to have to go to law school someday...."