SHE IS ME by Cathleen Schine

Reviewed by Nordeen Morello, Book'em.....take our poll!

(July 12, 2005) Cathleen Schine has written an intergenerational tale set in contemporary Santa Monica, California in the novel She Is Me. The three central characters are women tied by blood and by their struggles to deal with family, love, relationships, mortality and life choices.

The novel's title plays off Flaubert's "C'est moi," a reference to his classic creation, Emma Bovary, now being re-invented by Elizabeth who is writing a screenplay for the modern adaptation of Madame Bovary. Book-'Em felt that this subplot to Schine's story was weak, though it does give the author the opportunity to mock Hollywood and indulge in some social commentary on the "clichés and banality" of modern life.

"She is me" also references the cyclical dynamics of daughters needing to assume maternal caretaker roles to their mothers. Here Schine is stronger in creating a realistic scenario and three well-rendered, believable protagonists. First generation "I'm a pistol" Lotte (and she is!) is the most endearing and humorous of the three. Her spirit for life, and for cursing, made Lotte our favorite character. Her daughter, Greta, emerges as a maternal archetype able to express many emotions we readers could identify with as mothers ourselves. Greta is the character who supplies the novel's one surprise. Elizabeth, the third generation daughter, was considered "whiney and annoying" by our group. She is definitely the most self-absorbed and least likeable of the three women. Elizabeth does highlight for the reader the inner turmoil and ambiguity that characterizes normal human reaction to intergenerational needs and demands.

Our group discussion focused on this issue of aging parents in both generalized as well as individualized and personal commentary. Our mobile American society was contrasted to other cultures in handling this situation. We also touched on our own feelings and fears that we may one day place unreasonable demands on our offspring. "Living independently, staying active and healthy seems to be the key to aging." The 91- year-old mother of two sister members of our group (who incidentally reads all of our Book-'em selections) exemplified these traits for us.

While discussion about the original Madame Bovary and exploration of Schine's oft-repeated "we are all Emmas" was possible, essentially the novel did not engage our group enough to do this. "It's obvious, superficial and repetitious in language and theme," summarized one member. An additional criticism was that the male characters were "too remote" and remained peripheral to the story.

It is fair to mention that two Book-'Em members did enjoy this quick and easy read for the depth that emerges when identifying with the love, resentment, anger and guilt these daughters experience in their situations. An interesting suggestion was that "perhaps liking the book is determined by the readers own relationship with their mother." Schine does manage to capture some of the frustrations and horrors of growing old, facing illness and interacting with the elderly or infirm.

Book-'Em's verdict? Despite very discussable, pertinent and identifiable content, "this author just wasn't good enough to pull it off." We cannot generally recommend She Is Me to other groups as a selection. But if She is You……..

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