Playing with Fire

Dani Shapiro, Author
Dani Shapiro, Author Doubleday Books $17.95 (303p) ISBN 978-0-385-26722-9
Reviewed on: 05/01/1990
Release date: 05/01/1990
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)
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