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Famous Baby

Famous Baby

3.0 7
by Karen Rizzo

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Los Angeles Times Summer Books Preview selection
Los Angeles Magazine Now Read This: The Best of L.A.
A Jane's Addiction Pick, W Magazine
South Florida Lifestyle Summer Read
Zoe Report Best Summer Beach Read
HelloGiggles Summer Guide to Truly


Los Angeles Times Summer Books Preview selection
Los Angeles Magazine Now Read This: The Best of L.A.
A Jane's Addiction Pick, W Magazine
South Florida Lifestyle Summer Read
Zoe Report Best Summer Beach Read
HelloGiggles Summer Guide to Truly Spectacular Reading

Famous Baby is inventive, hysterical, and touching. Karen Rizzo wraps a timeless drama about the love between mothers and daughters in a fresh, snappy package for the social media age.” — CHRISTINA SCHWARZ, author of The Edge of the Earth and Drowning Ruth , an Oprah’s Book Club Selection

Before there were Real Housewives and Tiger Moms, the was Ruth Sternberg, the hugely popular First Mother of Mommy Blogging—or, as Ruth’s daughter, Abbie prefers to call her, the First Lady of Cyber Exploitation.

Eighteen year-old Abbie has finally found her way out of the limelight, by moving a solid five hundred miles away from Ruth and her “maternal instincts.” But when she hears that her ailing, beloved grandmother is moving in with Ruth, she suspects that her mother has found a new blog subject to exploit. Abbie kidnaps Grandma to save her from the same fate, and thus begins an uproarious battle of wills. Famous Baby wisely and hilariously explores mother love, identity, and the hazards of parental over-sharing in the social media age.

Karen Rizzo, who lives with her actor husband and two children in Los Angeles, California, is the author of Things to Bring, S#!T to Do… and Other Inventories of Anxiety , a memoir centered around her penchant for lists. Her writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Salon, Living Fit , and women’s humor anthologies, and her plays have been staged at several theatres. Famous Baby is her first novel.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This deft first novel from Rizzo, author of the memoir Things to Bring, S#!t to Do... and Other Inventories of Anxiety, uses a driven professional blogger and her resentful daughter as a springboard for a satirical exploration of the modern American family. After publishing one celebrated novel, L.A. writer Ruth Steinberg fails to deliver a follow-up, instead turning to nonfiction and the popular “Full Nest Blog,” mining her own life, and that of her husband, Justin, and daughter, Abbie, for material. Now 18, Abbie is estranged from her mother, whom she has dubbed “the First Lady of Cyber Exploitation” for chronicling Abbie’s entire life online. Ruth’s newest scheme is to broadcast her dying mother Esther’s final days over webcam, but Abbie catches on and spirits her grandmother away to Tucson, Ariz. Ruth, along with Harold Klein, her agent and onetime lover, launches an attempt to find them before word of their escape gets out. Meanwhile, Eric Smith, an earnest young filmmaker, is trying to persuade a skeptical Abbie to cooperate with a documentary about her life as a “famous baby” of the Internet age. Rizzo’s wicked takedown of “mom bloggers” concludes on an unexpectedly but convincingly sweet note, making this a very pleasing debut. Agent: Joy Tutela, David Black Agency. (July)
From the Publisher
Los Angeles Times Summer Books Preview selection
Los Angeles Magazine Now Read This: The Best of L.A.
A Jane's Addiction Pick, W Magazine
South Florida Lifestyle Summer Read
Zoe Report Best Summer Beach Read
HelloGiggles Summer Guide to Truly Spectacular Reading

“Will take your summertime escapades to the next level.” — Zoe Report: Rachel Zoe’s Daily Dose of Glamour

Famous Baby wisely (and funnily) explores motherhood, identity, and the hazards of parental over-sharing in the social media age.” — HelloGiggles

“Believable and well-conceived. . . . Rizzo’s use of mommy blogging as a source of conflict wrests a wry smile of recognition out of the reader.” — PopMatters

“A refreshingly new twist on one of the oldest stories in the book: the mother-daughter love hate relationship. . . . Funny, touching . . . Famous Baby would be a great choice for a book club.” — Bookconscious

“A recommended read for all daughters out there.” — Chickens in the Road

“Rizzo did a great job creating characters who are not what you would expect them to be. . . . This novel will make you think about possible over-sharing digitally, but more than that it will make you think about your relationships and both death and life. Though not a ‘light’ story, with serious issues, complex characters, and emotion, Rizzo’s humor is both needed and enjoyed.” — Book Sp(l)ot Reviews

“This deft first novel [is] a satirical exploration of the modern American family . . . a very pleasing debut.” — Publishers Weekly

“In her funny and touching new novel, Karen Rizzo deftly unpacks the fraught world of mothers and daughters, skewers the vast narcissism of the blogosphere, and reveals the emotional wages of unbridled ambition. An enjoyable and surprising ride to some places I didn’t expect to go.” — SETH GREENLAND, author of The Angry Buddhist

“Hilarious, moving, and wildly original, Famous Baby is a laugh-out-loud funny and poignant look at the modern family in these TMI times.” — WENDY LAWLESS, actress and author of Chanel Bonfire

“Karen Rizzo’s writing is so good I want to read it out loud and pretend it’s me who is so cunning, sublime, and full of light. Famous Baby is a sturdy tale of exceeding relevance that dwells squarely in that nearly impossible landscape of everything so darkly funny and so achingly true.” — MARC PARENT, author of Turning Stones: My Days and Nights with Children at Risk and the Runner’s World “Newbie Chronicles” column

Famous Baby is inventive, hysterical, and touching. Karen Rizzo wraps a timeless drama about the love between mothers and daughters in a fresh, snappy package for the social media age.” — CHRISTINA SCHWARZ, author of The Edge of the Earth and Drowning Ruth, an Oprah’s Book Club Selection

Product Details

Prospect Park Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

Famous Baby

A Novel

By Karen Rizzo

Prospect Park Books

Copyright © 2014 Karen Rizzo
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-938849-30-5



I blame Mary Lou fucking Retton. I blame her for raising the bar for teenage girls, for singlehandedly altering the consciousness of an entire generation of women and effectively ending any chance I had of becoming someone my own daughter would like.

Like me, you couldn't have been sixteen the summer of 1984 and, having witnessed that imperturbably ecstatic, muscle-bound spark plug beat out her competition with inhuman ease, been happy selling "Greet the Tall Ships" T-shirts on a hot Long Island beach boardwalk. Watching Mary Lou on TV those nights confirmed the existence of God, life on Mars, and the possibility for happiness. Mary Lou. Me. Mary Lou and me. She was the darling of the 1984 Olympics, the winningest American female gymnast in the history of those games. And I ... I was the Jones Beach concession-stand cashier with the most pathetic sales that summer. Piled beside me was my tower of small to extra-large white T-shirts announcing the coming of the Tall Ships, sailing from every port in the world to New York's East River in celebration of America's independence. At the far west end of the beach I sat, the keeper of those silk-screened beauties. Come, celebrate, greet the Tall Ships! Those tall fucking ships. I wore one of those shirts every single day and scribbled down my personal sixteen-year-old suburban-girl angst in the diary that I carried everywhere that summer—a tiny felt journal with a faux-fur tiger on the cover. I had no choice but to scribble—if I'd had a choice, I would have been Mary Lou Retton. Or Missy Cataldo—my best friend Missy, with the Playboy Bunny breasts, steel-reinforced thighs, and impossibly thick mane of hair pulled back in a ponytail that was bleached green from daily swim-team practice.

Among the junior lifeguards at Jones Beach that summer, Missy held the distinction of spotting the most drowners—those beachgoers who insisted upon dogpaddling too far out into the cold ocean, only to cramp up and sink. Behind her killer stack and Chlorine Barbie looks, Missy was a brain, and the only other kid in Mr. Harris's tenth-grade English class, aside from me, who knew that "four legs good, two legs bad" referred to a need for unity in the face of oppression and not a wrecked gateleg table. She had a dumb-smart Judy Holliday kind of laugh that she perfected by watching Born Yesterday over and over, and I was the girl who actually knew who Judy Holliday was.

Connie was the third member of our group, although we weren't really a group, just three beach-weary compatriots and veterans of the same disbanded Camp Fire Girls troop. Connie was working her third summer at the concession stand down the boardwalk from me. She was already looking forward to attending some Ivy League college that was known to have the worst winters and most freshmen suicides of any school on the northeastern seaboard. That summer, Connie already couldn't wait for it to be next summer, when she'd be seventeen and able to quit her "stupid beach existence," as she called it, and intern in an air-conditioned office somewhere in midtown Manhattan, where she imagined wearing support pantyhose and taking cigarette breaks at the water cooler. She was anxious to start down the road she was convinced would lead to her becoming the first female governor of New York. But that summer, she was stuck working the East End concession stand. She sat on a stool inside one of the cool, cavernous beach buildings, beside one of a half-dozen ancient manual cash registers with the drawer wide open, ringing up purchases while following the principle of "one for them, one for me." Connie kept track of all those one for mes inside her own electronic cash-register brain. She'd smile winningly at the concession managers, the mothers in skirted swimsuits, and the kids with third-degree sunburns, and then ring up one for them and one for me, another one for them and another one for me.

"You're crazy—how do you do it?" I asked her in the echoing din of sandy, shuffling feet and screaming children.

"It's easy," she shouted back. Reaching into the freezer, she grabbed two ice cream push-ups and tossed them in front of me. Then she rang up one for forty-five cents and, smiling brightly at me instead of ringing up the second one, said, "Ninety cents, please." Since the forty-five cent total was hidden on the broken display, and Connie's smile was so bright and genuine, the customer usually handed her the ninety cents without a second thought. All the managers trusted her, because she was the smartest cashier they'd had in many summers, and the line at her register was always moving. Her supervisor wanted to promote her to manager, but Connie demurred. "Oh, no," she said, "I'd much rather work on the floor, interacting with all the fascinating people." Her career in politics was already well under way. At the end of the day, Connie would treat us all to chocolate egg creams and BLTs at the Palms Deli, courtesy of her daily graft.

"Such a generous friend," my mother often said. "You're lucky to have her, and that Missy—such a lovely girl."

But Connie and Missy struck me as the lucky ones: They were perfectly happy being themselves. I was the one who wanted to be Mary Lou Retton.

And why wasn't I? Why, at the very least, didn't my parents push me to study violin or piano or the French horn at the tender age of three so I could at least become a world-class virtuoso? Why was I stuck on Long Island, peddling a bunch of stupid T-shirts while pimply, sunburned lifeguards made lewd jokes from behind their stupid mirrored aviators? But most importantly, why wasn't I Mary Lou? So I scribbled some more, and the more I scribbled, the longer my diary became. I scribbled about everything puzzling and disappointing in my life, eventually making it into a story about someone else living in an alternate-universe version of my New York suburb. It was the fictional version of my life—because God forbid I should reveal anyone else's bloody secrets—and I called it Mary Lou and Me. It was my first novel, and it was number one on the New York Times bestseller list for longer than anyone ever could have imagined.

Mary Lou and Me was about a girl named Anais, who'd been jettisoned into the dangerous, uncharted territory of high school. In the course of three hundred pages, our heroine survived not only her senior year but also the deaths of her father and her best friend, a near-fatal car accident, and a couple of dozen "humiliating, agonizing—yet, at the same time, oddly hysterical—situations," all leading her to the ultimate realization that it's true, you can't go home again; and maybe you don't want to in the first place. It's always seemed to me that the past is kind of pointless, anyway. There's nothing you can do about it; there's nothing you can do with it, except carry it around and try to survive it. Given the choice, I've always been one of those people who think it's best to let sleeping dogs lie.

I was twenty when Mary Lou and Me was published—my first and only novel. I had turned my life into a funny and tragic fiction and actually became my own Mary Lou. But a new problem soon presented itself—namely, topping that literary gold-medal equivalent—and I struggled over my second novel for the next seven years, with no success. Along the way, I fell in love with an infuriating man named Justin and married him—and when I found myself pregnant, the solution to my writer's block became crystal clear: It was simply a matter of taking advantage of my wrecked hormonal state. I soon realized that the angst and paranoia stirred up in the unbalanced chemical cocktail of my imagination made for better reading than any fiction I was capable of inventing. That, along with the birth of my daughter Abbie—my amazing, insightful, perfect child—led to the next big discovery of my writing career: It was easier not to turn any of it into fiction. In fact, I didn't need fiction! So it went that I fell in love with an infuriating man, and we had a daughter, and our marriage dissolved, and I scribbled about it all and continued my success as a blogger. And my daughter grew up to hate her mother's scribbling.

That last part—about my daughter hating my work (and, I suppose, by extension, me)—is a bit surprising, because I'll be the first to admit that Abbie isn't an embittered person, though she does tend to carry her privacy to a some-what psychotic degree. It wasn't as though our lives were separate—but unless you're a mother, you can't possibly know how entangled you become in your child's life. It's not just the day-to-day tedium, the schlepping, the care and keeping. It's that your child's experiences become your own. It isn't possible to separate your child's hurt from your own personal, emotional reaction to the bullies at school taunting her. Kids don't know this because they're miniature Ayn Rands, deluded into thinking they were born perfectly autonomous creatures.

It was funny in a way—the more I wrote about Abbie, the more her friends wanted me to write about them, offering me their own stories and angst. "Um, Ruth, you wouldn't believe, the weirdest thing, like, happened to me. And like, while it was happening I kept thinking, 'No one would believe it was happening, except like, maybe someone who was a writer, and wrote about things that were kind of weird that nobody else would ever believe.' You know?" Because everyone loves having her stories told—everyone except Abbie. No matter what I wrote about her, I could never manage to redeem myself in her eyes—and the truth is, I couldn't stop myself from writing about her. I remember, after Abbie's second day of kindergarten, she asked me if it was possible to love a person so much that your heart could explode in your body.

"Like who?" I asked. "Who could you love that much?"

"You, Mom," she said.

"No, honey, your heart can't explode," I lied, as I caught a cry in my throat from escaping. "That could never happen."

I knew it could happen, but it would happen to me, not Abbie. I already knew that she would grow out of that kind of love for me, but I never would—and that terrified me. Writing about Abbie somehow diminished that terror and helped me deal with it—helped keep me solid, keep me from disintegrating into a vapor and disappearing.

You can never make your child understand what it's like to be a mother, no matter how hard you try; you can only love her, provide for her, and try to keep her safe from all harm—at the same time trying to keep her existence from completely replacing yours. Just know that none of this precludes the possibility that your child may abruptly leave you one day, taking a large chunk of your heart with her—or perhaps committing a federal offense in retaliation for all your efforts.



I didn't kidnap my grandmother. Seriously, like at eighteen I'm suddenly going to be exhibiting some borderline-personality thing after a lifetime of being the poster child for "Girls Go Science!" I definitely didn't take Grandma by force. She came of her own free will, seeking an adventure, a change of pace, and an opportunity to spend some quality time with her favorite (and only) granddaughter.

Right now Grandma's really tired, so she seems a little dazed. I mean, just because an eighty-five-year-old woman is dazed doesn't mean she's senile. Like I said, she's just tired. And I don't blame her, because the trip here was long, and she needed her walker to drag herself to the bathroom of nearly every gas station on the desert highway between Los Angeles and Tucson. She's tired because she couldn't sleep. She would never think of sleeping in a car, probably because she loved driving so much—up until the stroke. She used to drive with me riding shotgun, the afternoon sun forming our own personal glass-and-steel sauna, the two of us specimens together under the light. Outside of driving her 1988 Chrysler Newport in daylight, though, she hates the sun. I've never seen her with a tan, and she has only one age spot, the size of a nickel under her right cheekbone, which she covers with a white oil-pastel crayon because "it offers better coverage than Estee Lauder could ever provide." She's never looked her age. So even though she's only six months older than when I last saw her, it's kind of shocking to see her finally looking her eighty-five years. There must have been a day recently when her skin gave up and decided it was too exhausting to hold on as tightly as it had been. Grandma has never admitted to being older than fifty-nine, but I've known the truth for a while because I once stole a look at her driver's license.

I should have let Grandma drive like she wanted to—then at least one of us wouldn't be so exhausted—even though she hasn't driven in two years, since the stroke that left her with a pretty useless left leg and arm. My grandmother's in denial of her paralysis. She believes her left arm is still functional. I'm like: "Grandma, can you raise your left hand?"

"I most certainly can. See?" Then she'll playact: "Oh, yoohoo! You dropped your telephone!"

Her hand never leaves her side, but she believes that she's raised it above her head and waved at some imaginary passerby. Her neurologist, Dr. Martini—who is officially my newest fifty-year-old role model—says it's a neurological condition caused by damage to a specific area in the back of her brain, a condition in which the patient can't grasp the fact of her paralysis because another part of her brain that isn't damaged tells her that her body is working just fine. Which means that even our brains can lie to us—don't get me started on the implications there. Grandma senses having moved her arm, and she can recall for me the things she's done with it, in the same way that a golfer might replay the detailed motion of a winning golf swing. She has no awareness of not having moved it, which, when you think about it, is opposite of the way that some people function when they actually do move their bodies in damaging ways—like, say, typing on a keyboard—and then have no awareness of the harm they've inflicted. Not that I'm thinking of anyone in particular.

Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, a million afternoons with her in my mother's kitchen, eating rugelah and pound cake fresh from the Village Bake Shop. We'd stop at the bakery after she picked me up from school, which she did when my mother was too busy working on a book, or her blog, or an advantageous business relationship, and my father was busy conducting one of his meditation workshops or sending a client to some healing astral plane.

My grandmother is the only human I know who qualifies as perfect. When I was small she'd let me spray my iguana Louie with her Chanel #5 perfume and wrap my ponytails in her Pucci scarves. She could make vanilla egg creams like Canter's Deli and a tuna fish sandwich that wouldn't make me nauseous, and she could stay awake for a Friday-night triple feature of old movies, all the while looking like Gena Rowlands—a favorite of hers—in Gloria, although we both preferred the Gena in A Woman Under the Influence because she looked particularly beautiful for someone having a nervous breakdown. When it became clear in seventh grade that I favored biology over the superpopular film studies and drama program at my middle school, headed by some USC film school graduate who used to babysit Steven Spielberg's kids, it was my grandmother who helped me organize the after-school club Pathologists in Action, which had a total of one member other than me. Grandma acted as our driver to hidden trails in Griffith Park, where we'd crawl around on all fours searching for diseased plants and their beetle predators.


Excerpted from Famous Baby by Karen Rizzo. Copyright © 2014 Karen Rizzo. Excerpted by permission of Prospect Park Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Karen Rizzo, who lives with her actor husband and two children in Los Angeles, California, is the author of the Book Sense/IndieBound selection Things to Bring, S#!T to Do , a memoir built around her penchant for lists. The recipient of a MAGGIE Award for Best Essay in a West Coast Consumer Magazine, her stories and essays have appeared on NPR and in the Los Angeles Times, Living Fit, Salon, Beatrice, Fresh Yarn , and VIVmag as well as the anthology Life’s A Stitch: The Best of Contemporary Women’s Humor . Her plays and performance pieces have been seen at ARCADE (Los Angeles), Playwrights Horizons Theatre School and Samuel Beckett Theatre (New York), and Ensemble Studio Theatre (New York and Los Angeles), where she is a longtime member. Famous Baby is her first novel.

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Famous Baby 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
SurferGirlReader More than 1 year ago
A funny, insightful and totally captivating novel-- a great beach read, but smarter than just a beach read, because it deals with real mother-daughter issues, parenting, and the issues of parents exploiting their kids for their own fame.
Betsy-Kipnis More than 1 year ago
Good audiences for this book are stay-at-home-blogger-to-be-moms, high-schoolers entrenched in TMI (Too Much Information) activities, and of course victims of TMI needing ideas for contending with an absence of control over their own stories. The premise for “Famous Baby” is timely and clever. A profitable blogger mommy crafts a blog about her child and family and bleeds them for material so badly that they become estranged and like New Age zombies. Set in LA and Arizona, the story is told through two contrasting points of view belonging to Mother, Ruth, and daughter Abbie. The story is narrated by Abbie, disenfranchised from her mother’s blog and narcissistic betrayal of her privacy, and Ruth who hungers after her mother Esther’s final days of life for her blog. Abbie, a knowing victim, kidnaps her grandma and schemes to protect her last days and escort Esther to the afterlife. Minor male characters fill in the blanks which explain the character’s conflicts while moving the plot forward, but “Famous Baby” really covers mother/daughter torch-passing the good, bad, unmentioned and ugly. Overall entertaining, the ending was trite and predictable. While the characters were quirky and interesting almost David Lynch-like, they were fairly shallow and underdeveloped. Lastly, I didn’t care for the random side-bars and nods to Jim Carey’s, “Alrighty then!” It was distracting, disjunct and way too corny. Not sure if I’ll shelve this one or leave it on the table at the Spa...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This turned me off on the first page, tried to go more but to no avail :( Don't know why I thought it might be interesting, maybe it is I just couldn't make it far enough for it to be anything but "well that was a waste"
anonomas More than 1 year ago
This is one unusual book. I loved it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Where strangers make conversation with strangers who are no doubt very strange and could be sending from the state prison for sexual crimes. i just finished a dull mystery where there was a similar plot and pages of blogger this is addictive in real life and makes a boring book