cover image This Is Your Life

This Is Your Life

Meg Wolitzer. Crown Publishers, $17.95 (263pp) ISBN 978-0-517-56929-0

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)