Books by Ellen Lesser

THE BLUE STREAK by Ellen Lesser
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: June 1, 1992

Having assembled a group of familiar types in this, her third book, Lesser (The Other Woman, The Shoplifter's Apprentice) sets out to explore the equally familiar theme of conflict between father and son. When hard-driving Sam Winger, a classic Type A personality, suddenly dies of what is believed to be a heart attack, son Danny has to come home and face all the unresolved conflicts in his relationship with his father. The journey home is no epic one- -Brooklyn to Long Island—but Danny's move into an apartment in the borough (seen by Sam as a return to a place he'd worked to escape) had been the cause of a bitter quarrel in which Sam threatened to cut Danny out of his will. The two had not seen each other since. While Sam Winger had been a brilliant success at everything he did, Danny had found accomplishment only in swimming, and even that had let him down when, at college, he developed tendinitis. Now working as a lifeguard at the Y, he feels a failure again. The family, a collection of conventional types—including a martyred Jewish mother; an eccentric and vocal grandmother who blames her daughter- in-law for everything; a smugly superior sister; and a slew of representative relatives—gather to mourn, recriminate, and quarrel. Danny has to identify Sam's body at the morgue—a significant moment—and the pace quickens as he learns that his father had admired him after all; that he can act as decisively as his father; that Sam had died from an aneurysm, not a heart attack- -so no need to feel guilty; and that Sam's death ``wasn't the end; it was only the start of the ride they were taking together.'' Predictable, with insights as stale as yesterday's bread, but there's enough to suggest that Lesser could be a better writer if she were less wed to the Zeitgeist. Read full book review >

Like her first novel—last year's The Other Woman—these 11 workmanlike stories, most of which have appeared in small magazines, offer few surprises and not much insight into their sell-absorbed female protagonists. Mostly unsympathetic, Lesser's young women can be downright obnoxious. A lonely proofreader in Manhattan reluctantly befriends an older, retarded woman, then abandons her with little remorse ("Sara's Friend"). In the title story, a similar attraction/repulsion leads a young waitress to take up with a male shoplifter whose lessons in thievery offer her "a terrible freedom." The small-town journalist in "Stinking Benjamin" enjoys the company of an independent 50-year-old who was once a stereotypical housewife and is now a divorced free spirit. Though she feels guilty about ignoring her older friend for her new lover, this selfish narrator is also fully aware of her mean inaction. Likewise, a somewhat neurotic professional woman—an ambitious journalist from Miami—visits her college roommate in Vermont, but feels excluded from her married friend's New Age idyll, complete with its adorable child ("Eating Air"). Being single also depresses a Manhattanite (in "For Solo Piano") whose longing and loneliness is intensified by the loud and constant lovemaking of her neighbors. Three mundane pieces suggest that breaking up is hard to do: an abandoned wife speaks her woe into the miniature tape-recorder given to her as an anniversary gift by her ex ("Pearlcorder"); a young Jewish woman recovers from her failed relation with a goy at her little old grandmother's apartment in Brooklyn ("Passover Wine"); and in the only story with a male protagonist ("Dream Life"), a hapless lover is held responsible for what he does in his girlfriend's dreams. "Pressure for Pressure," an almost documentary account of an abortion, follows a young simple woman through her last-minute indecision and her regret for the casualness of the affair from which the pregnancy resulted. More meditative than meaningful, "Life Drawing" records the thoughts of a nude model as she poses, and "Madame Bartova's School of Ballet" recalls a young girl's years of study with a demanding teacher. Middle-brow feminist fiction—bland and predictable. Read full book review >