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She Is Me

She Is Me

3.5 7
by Cathleen Schine

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The Love Letter was a beloved and bestselling novel, and "She Is Me" is a return to that winning form--a novel about women's friendships, love, and family.


The Love Letter was a beloved and bestselling novel, and "She Is Me" is a return to that winning form--a novel about women's friendships, love, and family.

Editorial Reviews

Larry Colton
...hits a literary triple lutz...insightful, honest, and best of all, irreverent...
The Washington Post
The female characters here, unlike Emma Bovary, are all solidly sympathetic sorts: good-natured, gently perplexed, reasonable women who try not to make too much fuss about their own tumultuous hearts. "I don't like chance," Elizabeth admits. "Chance is too chancy." As with past Schine novels, the message of She Is Me is that sooner or later, even the most sensible soul must let down her guard and let passion blow through her. — Lisa Zeidner
The New Yorker
Schine wrotes with the speed and punch of a seasoned comic, conveying her character in a single line of dialogue.
The New York Times
She Is Me would have the makings of a pop-cultural satire no matter what. ("Madame Bovary," the producer complains. "A franchise it's not.") But as its title underscores, a deeper transformation is also at work. At heart this is a novel in which three generations of women feel twinges of that Flaubertian discontent and wind up altering their own lives. That they are grandmother, mother and daughter (Elizabeth is the youngest), and that the shadow of death influences all of their decisions make this idiosyncratic book as haunting as it is clever. — Janet Maslin
Publishers Weekly
Schine (The Love Letter; The Evolution of Jane) takes a refreshing and often very funny look at love, aging and loyalty in the complicated lives of three women in a tight-knit family. Assistant professor Elizabeth Bernard moves to Los Angeles with her live-in boyfriend, Brett, and their three-year-old son, Harry, after a paper she wrote on Madame Bovary ("The Way Madame Bovary Lives Now: Tragedy, Farce and Cliche in the Age of Ikea") catches the eye of a hotshot studio head, who hires her to write the screenplay for an updated version of Flaubert's classic. Also living in L.A. are her grandmother, Lotte, a sharp-talking sometime actress whose aging but still beautiful skin is now marred by a cancerous tumor, and her mother, Greta, a garden designer with a lackluster marriage and a recent diagnosis of colon cancer. Elizabeth quickly finds herself beleaguered by competing demands: her sick mother and grandmother, "now drifting just out of her reach, her grandmother toward death, her mother toward uncertainty"; her sweet, needy son; her husband Brett's insistence that she marry him; her problematic screenplay. Greta, meanwhile, develops a surprising crush on Daisy Peperino, the director with whom Elizabeth is collaborating, and Lotte tries to come to terms with her own imminent death. Schine deftly mixes humor and pathos as she explores these women's various challenges. Elizabeth, especially, grapples with adultery, passion and grief, like Flaubert's heroine, but this sweet novel has none of the French classic's darkness. Instead, it's clever, charming and even uplifting, as Elizabeth learns that love and family are "farcical only from the outside and tragic only when they ended" and that forgiveness is always possible. 6-city author tour. (Sept. 15) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The Library of Congress subject headings say it all: Adult Children of Aging Parents, Motion Picture Industry, Parent and Adult Child, Mothers and Daughters, Los Angeles (Calif.), Women Screenwriters, Women-California, Aging Parents, Grandmothers, Adultery all with the subheading Fiction. Schine (Rameau's Niece) writes of three generations of lovely, accomplished Franke-Bernard women and their men (and women): grandmother Lotte, ravaged by a particularly ugly skin cancer; mother Greta, an accomplished landscape gardener, wife to a successful doctor, captivated by a younger lesbian film director, and about to be diagnosed with her own virulent cancer; and daughter Elizabeth, professor-turned-screenwriter, mother of three-year-old Harry, partner of Brett, toying with adultery in fact and fiction, and unable to commit. Conclusion: life's a mess, no matter what the social stratum. In this lovely, gripping, if sometimes depressing read, Schine conveys exquisitely the dynamics of the mother-daughter-granddaughter relationship and doesn't flinch from the realities of severe illness. Some nice touches and surprises; readers will love Lotte, who is a grand character. Recommended for all collections.-Jo Manning, Miami Beach, FL Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Three generations of a close-knit family-mother, daughter, and granddaughter, each supporting the other selflessly but nevertheless facing her greatest challenge alone. Best known for The Love Letter (1995), which became a movie, Schine (The Evolution of Jane, 1998, etc.) focuses this time on three women: Lotte, the matriarch of a Jewish family transplanted to California, has recently been diagnosed with facial skin cancer. Her daughter Greta, a landscape artist married to a nice if slightly abstract doctor, adores her mother and does not resent caring for Lotte. Elizabeth, Greta's daughter, is an academic in New York, but by lucky coincidence she has been hired by the movie mogul Larry Volfman, a secret intellectual, to adapt Madame Bovary for the screen. With her loving boyfriend, whom she won't commit to marry, and their excessively lovable three-year-old son Harry, she moves to LA just in time to help care for Lotte, who is, as she herself likes to repeat, "a pistol," as elegant and feisty as ever. Earthy, nurturing Greta is thrilled to have her daughter near but keeps her feelings in check. Elizabeth's life, complete with a big salary, a cottage in Venice, and an SUV, seems almost perfect. Then Greta is diagnosed with colon cancer. She keeps her own cancer a secret from Lotte, but Elizabeth must step in and help both patients more. She's exhausted, pulled by conflicting responsibilities. As Lotte very privately comes to grips with her approaching death, Elizabeth finds herself attracted both to Volfman and to her younger brother's best friend, even though Brett is the most patient and loving of romantic heroes. Meanwhile, Greta not only struggles with chemotherapy but with hergrowing, out-of-the-blue passion for Daisy Piperino, the female director with whom Elizabeth is working. There are many references to Flaubert's novel, but Schine's domestic melodrama is short on real drama, with characters all too nice and understanding to create more than a mild stir. Capable but bland.

Product Details

Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.98(w) x 9.50(h) x 0.91(d)
Age Range:
13 Years

Read an Excerpt


Motherless children have a hard time, but what about the rest of us? Elizabeth thought. Motherless children have a hard time, when your mother is dead. . . . She must have sung out loud because her mother, Greta, slapped her hand lightly and said," That's enough music."

Elizabeth put her arms around her mother. "Thank you for coming," Greta whispered." You're a good daughter." Tears appeared below the rims of Greta's sunglasses and ran down her cheeks.

"Mom, she'll be okay," Elizabeth said." Don't cry. You're a good daughter, too."

Then Elizabeth began to cry. And wished she had sunglasses. "It's so fucking hot in here," Greta said, patting Elizabeth's back in an almost unconscious, ritualistic gesture of comfort." Why do they have the heat on?They'll make us all sick." She turned to the doctor's receptionist." First, do no harm!" she said. The receptionist, a middle-aged black woman with long, squared-off plastic fingernails, looked up.

"Maybe you're having hot flashes," Elizabeth said. She wiped sweat off her forehead with the back of her hand." Maybe we're all having hot flashes."

The clacking of the receptionist's manicure on the computer keys resumed.

Elizabeth listened to the pitter-patter of plastic against plastic, the rhythm of work. Order. A peaceful resolve. One foot in front of the other. One fingernail in front of the other.

She imagined her grandmother's skin. Her grandmother was so proud of her skin. It was white, as white as the shoulders of a heroine in a novel. It was soft and scented by Ponds cold cream. How many times had that cheek been presented to her to kiss? How many times had she seen it approaching, in the slow motion of a horror movie?Once, she ran away from the advancing cheek, and her grandmother cried. When Elizabeth got older, she loved to kiss her grandmother, loved the old-fashioned delicacy of her face. But as a child she'd sometimes felt suffocated by her grandmother's cheek, by her strong, grasping fingers, by the demand. Elizabeth did not like demands. Unless it was she who made them.

"Poor Grandma," she said. She shed a few tears. Then stopped herself. Then sniffed. Her mother stood up. She took several tissues from a box on the receptionist's desk." Here." "Filthy tumor," her grandmother had said when they'd found out." Why couldn't I have it on my goddamned ass?" Elizabeth blew her nose. She wiped the back of her neck with another tissue. She sat in the waiting room, sweating, a dirty tissue in each hand.

Now, Lotte, shut up, Lotte said to herself. You son of a bitch, you've had a good life. And there's life in the old mare, yet. She adjusted her hat, patted her hair. Beautiful hair with a natural wave. The haircutter came to her now. Fifteen dollars, that was all, no charge for the house call. Of course, she gave him a big tip. He was a darling, and so devoted to her. Well, that 's just the kind of person I am, she thought.

Her daughter, Greta, was talking to the doctor. Handsome?Like a matinee idol. But such a waste on such a cold, cold fish. A top man, of course, world renowned, best in his field, with that flashlight, like a miner, on his forehead. Two assistants to go through before you could speak to him, and then he was abrupt, rude, let's be frank, all they wanted was money. Butchers. Even so, this gorgeous stiff with a pole up his high-priced ass had stayed to talk to her, had laughed at her joke, had called her by her first name and told her she was as sharp as a tack.

"What about chemotherapy?"Greta was saying. Greta wore ridiculous clothes for a grown woman. She wasn't at all bad looking, and she 'd never put that weight back on, God bless her. But Greta neglected herself. Lotte wondered how she, Lotte Franke, n�e Levinson, practically brought up in Levinson's, her family's department store, how she, an actress-a dancer, anyway, and on Broadway, don't forget-how she had raised a daughter who could appear in public in such dreary clothes. "You're dressed for the rodeo," Lotte said in the car on the way home.

In the backseat, Elizabeth laughed." Grandma, have you ever seen a rodeo?I mean, how would you even know?" "I'm wearing jeans, for heaven's sake," Greta said." Not chaps." Lotte began to cry." I don't want a hole in my face." "Grandma, Grandma, they cover the hole," Elizabeth said. She took Greta 's shoulder." Don't they?" "Plastic surgery," Greta said." And they're blue jeans, Mother, just like everyone else on earth."

"You see?"said Elizabeth." Plastic surgery. Like a movie star." Elizabeth was a wonderful girl. Subdued, but chic. If she would just let her hair loose, instead of pulling it back like a librarian. "Beautiful, wavy. . ." Lotte said, clucking disapproval. "We did go to a rodeo once," Greta said." Remember, Mother? Lake George?It was so hot Daddy drove in his boxer shorts?" "My Morris," Lotte said with a sigh. What a nightmare that trip was. And the filth!"You've got real style," she added, turning to Elizabeth." That's genetic."

A little makeup would be nice, too, though. Spruce things up a bit. Too serious, these young people. Working so hard. They all looked haggard.

"If it's so genetic, what the hell happened to me?"said Greta. "You," Lotte said. She raised her shoulders in a shrug." For the rodeo, you're not bad." She suddenly lifted both her large, bony hands. She clasped them together as if in prayer. Her bracelets clattered." What would I do without you?"she said." Without you two? My family. My family. . ." She trailed off. Leaned her head back. She was so tired. They were going to cut up her face. She might as well take the pipe.

Her face. Her beautiful skin that everyone admired. All her life they had admired her soft, white skin. Never even a pimple. She sat up straighter, gazed down at her wedding ring, not the original simple band, but a thick tire of gold studded with diamonds. Now, stop your moping, Lotte.

Life can be delish with a sunny disposish. . . . She ran the old song through her head, tried to smile. She'd done it at the Roxy. Or was it the Orpheum?She could hear the sound of her shoes on the stage, the chalky dust that rose like little clouds and settled on the black patent leather. A sunny disposish. But she was so tired. Couldn't she just die and be done with it?It was about time, anyway. She was old. It would be so much easier. For Greta. For Elizabeth. For all of them.

"But I'm just not ready yet," she said, only half to herself.

The 405 goes north and south, the 10 goes east and west. Elizabeth chanted these words in a silent singsong.

So, I take the 10. No, no. The 405. Take it through the pass that takes you over the hill and into the Valley to the 134, which turns into the 101. . . . There was something unnerving about driving somewhere new in L. A. Everyone kept a map in the car, even people who had lived their entire lives in the place. Elizabeth had not lived her entire life in Los Angeles. She had learned to drive on the North Shore of Long Island, where she had grown up. She still felt the ocean was placed all wrong in California. Go west, someone would say, but you couldn't even follow the setting sun if the sun happened to be setting, because no one meant "west," really. They meant toward the Pacific Ocean, and the shore jutted out in peninsulas or formed bays, or did whatever else it could think of to make "west "mean something that had absolutely nothing to do with the location of the long white beach and the crashing surf. When she had first started driving in L. A. , she'd gotten herself a compass, but a compass was useless in this strange land.

"And the women!"her grandmother had said, when Elizabeth told her how strange L. A. felt." With their tztizkes hanging out!" She squinted in the glare of the beautiful sun. Yellow flowers that looked like a child 's crayon drawing lined the freeway. She got off at the correct exit. She held the directions she had downloaded from the Internet and tried to follow them.

After 1/8 of a mile, turn left. Continue for 1/3 mile. Take second right.

The instructions were overly detailed, confusing and uninteresting at the same time. That was the definition of a boring person. But Elizabeth was not bored. She was frantic. And how much was one-third of a mile added to one-eighth of a mile? She arrived in plenty of time. But she was worn out, her underarms damp, her head throbbing. And she had to pee. She didn't really understand why she was here. Why she had been summoned. She couldn't compete with women who had tztizkes hanging out.

She found the correct gate on the third try. A uniformed man came out of a glass booth.

Elizabeth said," Elizabeth Bernard for-" "He 's expecting you," said the attendant. A concierge in a brass-buttoned blazer took her in a small elevator paneled with exotic wood to a large waiting room paneled with exotic wood.

"Eliz-" "He's expecting you," said the receptionist at the first desk. "He'll be a few minutes late," said a second receptionist. "He apologizes," said the first.

Maybe I can just have the meeting with these two, Elizabeth thought. They were both purposefully unglamorous, she noticed. She forgot about peeing. She sat in a chair and looked out the windows at a flowering tree. The waiting room was historic, she knew. The style of the studio boss who ruled here in the 1930s had been left intact. Towering silver doors etched with art deco designs. Crystal statuettes. Curving, undulating wood. Why am I here? she wondered again. I don't belong here. I belong in a cramped office correcting papers about the Lacanian implications of How to Marry a Millionaire.

The silver portals swung open.

"Come in!"said a man in a suit and tie, the first man in a suit and tie Elizabeth had seen in the week she 'd been in L. A. He was waving her in, grinning, excited. She followed Larry Volfmann down three steps into an office as soft as a thigh-carpeted, upholstered, and pillowed. Larry Volfmann is a millionaire, she thought. What would be the Lacanian implications of marrying him? "How 's your trip?You like L. A.? First time out here? Takes some getting used to. . ."

He talked so fast it was difficult for Elizabeth to convey that her parents had lived in L. A. for years, had moved there when she was in college.

". . . started out as a bunch of Indian villages, then towns, now they 're all linked together, so, you know, it feels like it has no center because it actually has no center. . ."

Elizabeth wondered again what she was doing there, summoned before this great man. She had heard that all powerful men in Hollywood were short and was a little disappointed to see he was actually of average height. He didn't have a tan, either. Or wear a baseball cap.

"Mr. Volfmann-" "Larry. . ." He handed her a bottle of water. "Larry, it 's so good to meet you. I'm a little stunned, of course-"

"Happiness," Larry said, interrupting." Passion." He waved a magazine at her. "Intoxication." The magazine was Tikkun, the issue with her article about Madame Bovary." Happiness, passion, intoxication. I like it!"He shrugged as if to say, I like happiness:sue me!"I like it," he said again, tapping the page. "Well, those are Flaubert 's words," she said. She smiled, modestly, she hoped." Not mine."

And don't think you can con me or co-opt me or impress me, either, just because I 'm a dreary academic, just because I 'm impressed that you somehow manage to read Tikkun. I don 't read Tikkun. Who has time to read anything?And you probably have even less time than I do, although I bet you don't have to run home after work and make dinner and play with Brios and Duplos and Play-Doh. Maybe an assistant read it. No. What assistant would have the balls to recommend an academic article in a down-at-the-heels Jewish monthly?This has to have come from the eccentric boss himself.

"No," Larry said." Not Flaubert's words. Emma's words." Surprised, Elizabeth examined the eccentric boss himself. He looked a little like a boxer-the dog, not the athlete. Dark eyes, a bit jowly, but fierce. High-strung. And he was right. Happiness. Passion. Intoxication. They were Madame Bovary's words, the words Emma Bovary read in books, over and over.

"The words her marriage failed to make her understand. They're Emma's soul, her quest, her destiny, her tragedy . . ." He was still waving the magazine around.

Elizabeth smiled. A man of business, as Larry Volfmann so clearly was, was discussing her humble article. As she smiled, her pleasure at being noticed by him transformed almost effortlessly into a warm sense of personal superiority. Okay. I get it, she thought. You're smart, you're serious. You went to college. You're sensitive. You studied literature. But somehow, life took a funny turn and here you are, a man with a literary mind stuck doing action movies at Pole Star Pictures. The head of Pole Star Pictures, who earns more in one week than I earn in a year, but you haven't given up your soul. . . . She continued to smile at him and nodded to convey thoughtful attention the way she had learned to do with ardent students. He tilted his head, as if he'd been petted. She wondered if he was muscular like Fritz, the boxer dog who lived on the third floor in her building in New York. He was a little bowlegged, she had noticed. Like Fritz. And, to be fair, he might make a lot of money and be driven in a limousine, but he was right.

Emma Bovary was so fucking compelling. It didn 't matter how obvious one's response was, how banal, how romantic, how innocent. All of that just somehow made Madame Bovary-so compelling in her own romantic, innocent banality-all the more compelling.

"'The Way Madame Bovary Lives Now:Tragedy, Farce, and Clich� in the Age of Ikea, '"he read." We 'll have to change the title, of course."

She stared at him, speechless, until he began to laugh and she realized he was making a joke. "It's tough," he said." I mean, it will be tough to make it fresh. Because, you know, every movie is really Madame Bovary, right? Madame Bovary 'R'Us!"He laughed. He was having fun. The phone rang.

"What?"he answered, tough and rude, just like an executive ought to be." If you could remove your tongue from my ass and say whatever it is you want to say . . . Uh huh. . . Right. Do it!I like it!" He slammed the phone down, put both elbows on the desk and his chin in his hands, and stared expectantly at Elizabeth. "So. . . sort of like Clueless meets American Beauty?" she said.

After all, he was offering her cash money, and quite a bit of it. "Don't patronize me, Professor Smarty-Pants," he said." I don't know if you can write a script even half as good as either of those. I don't know if you can write a script at all, do I? I 'm going out on a limb for you-"

"No, I just meant-"

"I know what you meant, I know what you meant," he said, leaning across the desk at her, almost lying on it. He moved one hand, as if waving away smoke." History. Ancient. Gone. . . . I'm not looking to you to marry two pictures we already saw. No marriages, honey. I want. . . adultery!"

"I just-"

"I want new!I want to stray, roam, betray the conventions. And find me . . ." He paused. Slowly, seriously, he said," Find me Emma Bovary." Elizabeth felt the cold beads of water on the Evian bottle. When students assaulted her with their enthusiasm, she learned to watch them and nod while trying to decipher their barrage of critical theory and undergraduate sentimentality. But this growling man was not a student. His enthusiasm was not youthful. Critical theory was not a phase he would eventually have to grow out of. And she was not his teacher.

Elizabeth took her wet hand from the Evian bottle and put it on her forehead. I really want to do this, she thought, surprised. And she suddenly very much wanted to please Mr. Larry Volfmann, too.

"Familiar but fresh," he said. "Fresh." "But familiar." "But . . ." She hesitated. "Fresh?" "No. I mean, yes. But . . ." Volfmann glared at her." But what?" "But I'm an academic." "You'll get over it. Look," he said, pushing Tikkun at her," I have a feeling about this. Trust me." And I don't even have tenure, she thought.

"I've always dreamed of doing this project, but how the hell do you update Madame Bovary when every picture with an unhappy young wife is Madame Bovary?" "I don't know," Elizabeth said.

"Then, I'm in the gym," he said, paying no attention," and I'm reading, and . . . here it is!"He smacked the magazine." Concept. Clarity. Class." He smiled at her, his boxer jowls lifting." You've got the common touch."

I certainly do not, Elizabeth wanted to cry out, offended. "In spite of yourself," he added. "Oh. Thank you," she said.

Larry Volfmann leaned back, his hands behind his head. He spun around, 360 degrees, in his leather chair. "You on?" he said.

"Well, but, I don't really have any experience . . ." Shut up, asshole, she told herself. Way to talk yourself out of a shower of fucking riches.

"No. But you've got . . ." He thought for a moment. " Seychel," he said." You know what that means?" She nodded. But he continued anyway. "Common sense. I mean, that's the translation. Good, common sense."

"Yeah. That's good," Elizabeth said." Yeah. I like that." "Seychel," he said.

"Thank you," Elizabeth said. She realized she liked him, even though he had read her paper on Flaubert in Tikkun and wanted to pay her a lot of money to write a screenplay for an updated Madame Bovary, to turn poor Madame Bovary into a "project." She liked him even though he was buying Emma Bovary as if she were a new sweater, cashmere, but still;and buying her, Elizabeth, as if she were. . . what? Oh, come on, now. You mean you like him because he's buying you. Don't be a prig about selling out, you prig. "It's oddly comforting to be a commodity," she said.

"Back at you," he said.

Copyright � 2003 by Cathleen Schine

Meet the Author

Cathleen Schine has been dubbed a modern-day Jane Austen for her "satires with heart." Her internationally bestselling novels include The Three Weissmanns of Westport, and two which have been turned into movies (The Love Letter, which was made into a movie starring Kate Capshaw, and Rameau’s Niece, renamed The Misadventures of Margaret, starring Parker Posey). Her many articles and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, and elsewhere.

Brief Biography

New York, New York, and Venice, California
Date of Birth:
Place of Birth:
Bridgeport, Connecticut
B.A., Barnard College, 1976

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She Is Me 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Greta is the sandwich generation dealing with her ailing mother Lotte and her adult (with her own child) daughter Elizabeth. Things were okay for the California based landscape artist as her spouse is a nice person, her work enjoyable, and she is at some distance from the other generationals. That changes after her father dies and Lotte demands more of her time especially since the Jewish matriarch learns she has a nasty facial skin cancer. Elizabeth, with her preschool aged son and boyfriend, has relocated from NYC to work on a screenplay of Madame Bovary.

Greta loves her extended family, but would prefer less demand as she can only supply so much. However, the biggest issue to confront Greta is her deepest feelings especially after being diagnosed with colon cancer. She wonders about what she has done with her life and why she suddenly finds herself extremely attracted to film director Daisy Piperino since she has been a heterosexual from the moment she discovered boys.

SHE IS ME is an insightful look at three and a fraction (Greta¿s grandson is only three years old) generations of Americans. Each of the key characters especially the trio of women is fully developed so the audience can easily distinguish what motivates each one. The support cast enables an even deeper look inside the prime threesome though the tale lacks any major relational conflict as everyone tries to be considerate of each other. Still fans of a powerful perspective on the modern family will appreciate Cathleen Schine¿s novel because most of us will see much of ourselves as one of the she (or a support he).

Harriet Klausner

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this so much the big parts and little
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Like it she me
KelB More than 1 year ago
I could not find anything about these characters to like. Didn't care what happened to them. The plot was non-existent and slow moving. Complete waste of time.