Right Before Your Eyes: A Novel

Right Before Your Eyes: A Novel

by Ellen Shanman

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780440336907
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/01/2007
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
File size: 504 KB

About the Author

Ellen Shanman is a graduate of Northwestern University. She lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

Read an Excerpt

“When what you really want to do is throw a drink in his face, throw up on his shoes and run, it’s worth sticking around to see what happens.”
—my great aunt Fran, who sums it all up better than I ever could.
 
PROLOGUE
 
HAD I NOT JOINED Parrot for dinner that night, everything would have been different. Everything.
 
Most evenings out with Parrot are an adventure. I would love it if just once she could manage to get through dinner in a restaurant without recruiting whoever is at the next table to be the evening’s entertainment. (Was I the only one who repeatedly got the “stranger danger” lecture?) But as the adventure frequently ends in arrest or vomiting, I should have been grateful that, thus far, our impromptu meeting with a pack of self-important junior tycoons had led only to a crowded bar. A Friday night in New York City can always get so much worse.
 
River Town Lounge is a somewhat trendy downtown spot where the girls sandwich something clingy and sleeveless between overpriced jeans and hoop earrings, and the men all sport the same Banana Republic shirt. Directly after promising not to desert me, Parrot vanished into the crowd with Kirk, her new acquisition. George, the unfortunately handsome jackass with whom we’d first made contact at dinner, had perceived in me an admirable foe and was attempting to ply me with liquor while we verbally stabbed each other.
 
“So what do you do, George?” I asked.
 
“I’m in M’n’A. That’s mergers and—”
 
“Acquisitions, yeah, I know what it is.” I was grateful he didn’t say “consultant.”
 
“Of course. And you?”
 
“I’m a writer.”
 
“For whom?” he questioned.
 
“A playwright.”
 
“Ah. For no one.”
 
“Yeah, I’m having cards made.”
 
“So what kind of plays do you write?”
 
This is one of those questions I hope people will not ask in a bar, because then I’ll have to say something like “Well, right now I’m working on a piece about the perfect suburban widow and the way the neighborhood destroys her when she falls for the wrong man. It’s a little bit Ibsen, a little bit Alan Ball.” Inevitably, the other person will draw some parallel to Desperate Housewives and I’ll have to explain why that’s completely off base without sounding affected and nasty.
 
“Gee, George, I’m sure you’d much rather tell me about you. What kind of mergers do you acquire?”
 
“Point taken. So what do you actually do? For money?”
 
“I do administrative work.” I would not say the word temp to this man.
 
“You temp?”
 
I hated him.
 
“What agency? We’ve always got temps in my office.”
 
So much.
 
“It must be really hard to have a college degree and be temping.”
 
I was going to kill him.
 
“I’m assuming you did go to college. You seem like you did.”
 
“What exactly does that mean?” I asked.
 
“You know what it means. Would you like another?” He indicated my empty glass.
 
The overtly stylish bartender who was approaching had a “Hello, my name is Richard” sticker on his shirt, clearly an attempt at irony, which prompted George to cry, “Hey, Dick, another Brooklyn Lager for the lady.” Dick shot George a crushing glance and said, “It’s Richard.”
 
“I suspect that’s why it doesn’t say Dick on the tag,” I offered.
 
Kirk suddenly surfaced, adding, “Just crack this guy’s head against the bar a few times, Richard. That’ll shut him up.”
 
“Don’t bother, Richard,” I said. “His head’s so hard it probably wouldn’t do any good.”
 
Richard looked George and me up and down and said, “I have a feeling you know.”
 
George smirked. I cringed.
 
“Hey, I think your friend Parrot and I are going to head to another bar. You guys wanna tag along?” Kirk had discovered the many wonders of a newly available Parrot. I made a mental note to beat her about the head and shoulders for abandoning me on the very night I had come out to cheer her up.
 
“I’m going home,” I said.
 
“I’m going with her,” George said.
 
I didn’t have to say anything. I just looked at him.
 
Parrot materialized, kissed me goodbye, drunkenly whispered, “I’m going to fuck this Dirk guy—till he bleeds,” and staggered out the door.
 
I headed for the coat check, where George insisted on paying for me, and I rushed toward the door as quickly as possible. He was at my heels.
 
“Can I get you a cab?” he asked.
 
“I can get a cab.”
 
He smiled. “I was just suggesting—”
 
“Not looking for suggestions, thanks.” I didn’t even look back at him.
 
“Look, where are you headed? We could split—”
 
I was outside before he could finish the thought. And as I jumped into the street to hail a taxi, my heel caught on the curb and my ankle turned in the most painful, least natural way an ankle can turn. I made a loud, embarrassing, dying cat sort of noise and began to fall—when George caught me. Why, oh why, did we have to keep having this Nick and Nora, Bogie and Bacall, Turner and Hooch kind of evening? I hated this man! I did not need to have any sort of even fleeting attraction to someone who spent his life hoping that corporations would fold so he could arrange to take them over!
 
Through the haze of my extraordinary agony, I noticed that George smelled both expensive and very good as he picked me up and put me in the cab, which had shockingly stopped as I went down. And he didn’t even make that little “oof” noise that my college boyfriend used to make when he picked me up. Note to men: if you have to make the noise, we’d rather you skipped the picking-up altogether.
 
Before I could stop him, George slid into the seat beside me.
 
 
“Every glorious minute you waste thinking is a minute you could be drinking, loving, fighting or dancing. Think about that. But not for too long.”
 
CHAPTER 1
 
AS A YOUNG, struggling playwright, you have to feel grateful when anyone wants to do your work. Which was why, when a somewhat intense guy gave me a call and said he went to theatre camp with one of my college friends and he’d read one of my plays and gee, he really felt like he had a handle on it…I said I’d meet him for coffee. His name was Will Atherton. He was a second-year grad student in a highly regarded MFA program and we had agreed to meet at one of the myriad Starbucks cafes in Union Square.
 
Getting through the door was a struggle, but I pressed through the thronging caffeine addicts and took a moment to wonder how all these people had so much free time in the middle of the day. I was squeezing this meeting in on my teeny temp’s lunch break. I scanned the horde of turtlenecks hunched over iBooks, and realized I had no idea how to pick Will out. I must have looked lost and annoyed, because he spotted me within moments.
 
“You must be Liza!” a voice barked behind me. I turned to see a shortish, blondish fellow with thinning, unwashed hair and a slightly soft physique.
 
“Will?” I questioned. Obviously Will. Unfortunately, he had a turtleneck and a wallet-chain.
 
“You got it!” He laughed, though nothing was funny. He pumped my hand like he was trying to bring up oil and I tried not to decide that he’d only matriculated because his family had single-handedly endowed a third of the buildings on his campus.
 
“It’s so great to meet you!” Will gushed. He was weirdly energetic and bent over while he was talking. “I actually found a table!” he said, as though this merited congratulations.
 
“So how goes it?” he asked as we sat.
 
“Great, and you?” I replied, thinking that I really didn’t have time for small talk.
 
“Good, good,” he cooed. “I’m really juiced that you’re meeting with me.”
 
“Oh, yeah…,” I said. “So how exactly did you happen to read the play?”
 
“Oh, you know I make it a habit to read everything coming out of Yale.”
 
“Oh,” I said, thinking this was sort of odd as I’d left undergrad seven years ago.
 
“So, your work!!” Will began. “I’m really into it, really feel connected to your vision.”
 
Admittedly, I grew up around one of America’s theatrical treasures, my great aunt Fran, so I should be well-used to meaningless showbiz chatter. I went to my first Oscar ceremony when I was eight. But I’m still uncomfortable with the entertainment industry’s habitual self-congratulation. I’m not old enough to have “work.” According to Will, however, I was someone who “could really make a dent in the landscape of contemporary American theatre.”
 
“So here’s the dealy—” Will leaned in closer, and I drew my Frappuccino back a little. “I get to direct one mainstage per semester, use the undergrad actors (great kids!) and I wanna do nothing this winter if I can’t do Georgia Allen’s Window.”
 
The play in question was my pithy portrait of neighborhood politics in the suburbs, and I must admit I smiled at the thought that it might see the lights of a stage.
 
“Wow,” I said, “I’m really flattered—”
 
“You prolly wanna know, like, what I’m about: totally valid. Here’s my thing—very into the Theatre of Cruelty, Artaud, Grotowski, very physically oriented.” Visions of shrieking drama students in unitards writhed in my head.
 
Immediately I wondered why Will was drawn to my naturalistic drama, but I was trying to be open-minded. Exposure is everything. Unlike acting or dancing or wrapping the Reichstag, writing is one of the few artistic pursuits you don’t need permission to do. But if my plays weren’t being performed, I might as well stop writing them. I let Will continue and I tried to seem enthusiastic, but a small pebble of fear formed in my stomach as he explained that he wanted to add a character who moved through the audience poking people with a stick and telling them to sit up straight. He seemed to think it would strengthen the feeling of confinement within the play’s oppressive neighborhood. I tittered uneasily.
 
“Thing is, Liza,” he explained, tugging on his wallet-chain, “you have to be willing to take risks. You have to make people uncomfortable.”
 
“Hey, go with your strengths.” I mustered another laugh so he wouldn’t realize I was being a bitch.
 
“Right, right, exactly,” he replied. “So tell me what you think? Where are we? Where do we stand?”
 
I tried to phrase my answer carefully. “Gee, um…here’s the thing, Will…I’m really excited that you’re interested in the piece. It just sounds to me like you and I have very different…aesthetics. I’m not sure I see the same things in this play that you do.”
 
“But that’s great!” he cried. “That’s energy! That’s art! Conflict!” He slammed the rest of his caramel macchiato and pushed a hand through his greasy hair.
 
I wanted to say, “Sorry, I don’t think this is going to work.” But the idea of turning down an opportunity, any opportunity, made me want to go home and pore over the stack of law school brochures I keep in my desk drawer. It was just too depressing.
 
So instead I said, “I’ll want to sit in on rehearsals.”
 
“YES!” Will shouted, jumping up and knocking into the table, nearly upsetting my beverage. “That’s what I want! I want you in there! Let’s make some THEATRE!!”
 
People were looking. “Okay,” I said, very quietly. “Let’s.”

Reading Group Guide

From an exciting and wholly original new voice in fiction comes this charming, irreverent debut novel—a vibrant urban comedy about life, love, and trying to find your place in the world.

Outspoken playwright Liza Weiler left Yale with everything she thought she needed to make her mark on the New York stage. So why, nearly a decade later, is she still waiting for her “real” life to finally begin? But like any great drama, Liza’s life only needs one good twist. And that’s what happens when she turns her ankle on the way out of a downtown nightspot and falls into the arms of a suspiciously gallant Wall Street prince and later that night a practically perfect ER doc. Suddenly Liza not only has a couple of men in her life, but her play has fallen into the hands of an über-hip theater director. With a famous fashionable aunt as her mentor and a loony but supportive party girl as a best friend, Liza is ready for her turn at success. But Liza is about to discover how much of a mess she can make of a seemingly good thing…and how terrifying, slightly tragic, and utterly hilarious a little success can be.

The following discussion questions are intended to enhance your reading of this novel.|

1. Who or what do you think is implied by the title Right Before Your Eyes?

2. Each chapter starts with a light-hearted and witty quote. What purpose does it serve?

3. The novel introduces three very different women in the Weiler family—Liza’s mother, her aunt, and herself. How do their differences show? What do you think the author intended by making them so different?

4. If you could sum up the lesson Liza learns in one sentence, what would it be? Who else gets taught a thing or two here?

5. All of the characters have a different impact on Liza (Dr. Tim, George, Parrot, Tabitha). Who has the most positive influence on Liza? Who hinders Liza’s success the most? If you could choose to have any of these characters in your life, who would it be, and why?

6. What role do you think Aunt Fran plays for Liza? Is she wrong to have waited so long to provide career assistance? How do Aunt Fran’s actions affect the story? Do you believe that she has an ulterior motive for bringing George and Liza together?

7. Liza spends months trying to make Dr. Tim the boyfriend of her dreams. What does she learn from spending so much time with him?

8. In the beginning of the novel Liza clearly says that Tabitha is one of the more irritating people her life, but then she chooses to work for her. Does Liza give Tabitha a fair and genuine chance at friendship?

9. In the beginning of the story Liza leaves her temp position. Does she handle the situation appropriately? Would you have left your only source of income to pursue your dream as she did?

10. Do you think Liza is honest with her friends and family, in regard to her love life, her career, etc.? How does her honesty affect her relationships? How does her attitude create tension with the people in her life?

11. Does Liza overreact to the changes made to her play by the director? How else could Liza have handled the situation?

12. Tim is a smart, successful Emergency Room doctor, while George is a charismatic, talented businessman. Both are eligible bachelors, but how are their characters different? How does Liza’s relationship with each of them differ and at what point does she realize who she wants to be with?

Introduction

From an exciting and wholly original new voice in fiction comes this charming, irreverent debut novel—a vibrant urban comedy about life, love, and trying to find your place in the world.

Outspoken playwright Liza Weiler left Yale with everything she thought she needed to make her mark on the New York stage. So why, nearly a decade later, is she still waiting for her “real” life to finally begin? But like any great drama, Liza’s life only needs one good twist. And that’s what happens when she turns her ankle on the way out of a downtown nightspot and falls into the arms of a suspiciously gallant Wall Street prince and later that night a practically perfect ER doc. Suddenly Liza not only has a couple of men in her life, but her play has fallen into the hands of an über-hip theater director. With a famous fashionable aunt as her mentor and a loony but supportive party girl as a best friend, Liza is ready for her turn at success. But Liza is about to discover how much of a mess she can make of a seemingly good thing…and how terrifying, slightly tragic, and utterly hilarious a little success can be.

The following discussion questions are intended to enhance your reading of this novel.

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Right Before Your Eyes 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Jac8604 on LibraryThing 28 days ago
I thoroughly enjoyed the entire novel. Not only was it hilarious (I laughed out loud a lot), but it also felt pretty real and, at times, touching even. Liza is a refreshing character - intelligent, witty and flawed. Thankfully, unlike most female protagonists of late, her insecurities did not revolve around her body image and general lack of self-esteem.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this book down, i thought it was wonderful! the characters were fabulous, and funny. Some of the things that Liza gets into, i just had to laugh. This book also is so realistic and totally believable. I highly suggest you pick this up. I hope to see more titles by Shanman soon, because 'Right Before Your Eyes' was just so enjoyable!
harstan More than 1 year ago
Wannabe playwright Liza Weiler hopes to see her work performed in New York. However, so far she is a starving young artist with nothing on her résumé for that matter her personal life is just as vapid.---------------- Ironically a sprained ankle leaving the River Town Lounge gives her a big break though she also starred at the St. Vincent emergency room. However, she meets two hunks because of the incident George of Wall St. M&A fame who knows ankles from Yale Rugby and Dr. Tim of ER (the hospital not the old show). As her personal life comes alive, director Will Atherton selects her play as his next show on the Applause Channel. Floating on cloud nine, will success spoil Liza Weiler?----------------- Readers who appreciate a deep character study of a wannabe artist will enjoy the discerning look at the successes and failures of Liza Weiler. The story line has a chick lit feel that enables the audience to see inside the heroine¿s mind but that also slows the pacing down a bit. Still fans will flock to the enthusiastic Liza as she hopes to become the next great American playwright.--------------- Harriet Klausner