Cathleen Schine,
She is Me
(Time Warner, 2003)

Upon reading the title, I knew this audiobook would be filled with lots of women's reflections and introspection. While I'm not a huge fan of women's fiction, I thought that a dose of this genre might prove enlightening. However, She is Me turned out to be a bit more than I bargained for.

At the onset, She is Me packs a depressingly tragic double dose of cancer, both to Greta (main character Elizabeth's mother) and former vaudeville flash dancer Lotte (Elizabeth's grandmother). Elizabeth lives on the East Coast with Brett, the father of her child, Harry, and can't be there for her family in the way she hopes. Then an opportunity for Elizabeth to become a movie screenwriter in Los Angeles changes all that. Elizabeth picks up her life and belongings and moves to California.

The plot takes the reader through relocation, chemotherapy, radiation and, last of all, surgery for Lotte, whose nose is reduced to a flap of skin hanging off her face. While Elizabeth aids her mother and grandmother in dealing with and suffering through their debilitating diseases (and secretly deals with her father's infidelities), she questions her own life and her roles as mother, daughter, sister and caregiver. Then, there's her undefined relationship to Brett and his desire to marry.

In Elizabeth's spare time, she works on a (bad) screenplay called "Mrs. B" (based upon Madame Bovary), drinks too much and contemplates adultery with either of two men. While this is going on, the novel's text cuts from narrative and dialogue to bits of the poorly written screenplay and back again. And, if that's not distracting enough, in the midst of her own cancer, Greta explores and ultimately acts upon newfound feelings of lesbianism with one of Elizabeth's friends.

She is Me deals with important and timely topics, but does so in a way that goes over the border. Patricia Kalember reads the voices of the many characters with engaging and varied portrayals. Still, "she" is not "me" and this is not a family that I enjoyed learning more about or wanted to spend more time with.

- Rambles
written by Lynne Remick
published 28 February 2004

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