Books by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer

POISON by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
Released: April 24, 2006

"A massive, speculative, ornamental flourish in the margins of literary history. Skillfully written, but more obsessive than compulsive."
The epic saga of a landmark British poet and his three wives, two of whom committed suicide. Read full book review >
THE SNOW FOX by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
Released: Feb. 1, 2004

"Meandering and unfocused, written with a labored simplicity that will remind many of another well-meaning Western chronicler of the mysterious East: Pearl Buck."
A carefully researched if rather ho-hum tale about a Japanese courtesan who scorns all but one of the men obsessed with her: the latest from the prolific Schaeffer (The Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat 1998, etc.). Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1997

Another addition to the cute cat book genre, this one more graceful and evocative than most. The question remains, though: Why has this author of serious, provocative fiction (The Golden Rope, 1996, etc.) wasted her time on a book about pets? Born the only child of a resourceful alley cat, Foudini M. Cat (the ``M'' stands for Mouser), enjoys a few good months with his mother before she goes off hunting for food one day and doesn't come back. Alone and frightened in his basement home, Foudini hides out behind the dryer until a thoughtful human rescues him and another adopts him. Of course, Foudini has no reason to trust humans at first, but after a while he allows himself to be befriended by his captor. Eventually, he realizes that the woman he calls ``Warm'' (for obvious reasons) is his ``assigned person,'' and he thereafter devotes himself to keeping her company. Sharing the city house and country house between which Warm and her husband (called ``Pest'') shuttle with Foudini is a dog, Sam, who happens to like cats. The two pets strike up a lifelong friendship in which Sam protects Foudini from occasional life-risking behavior and Foudini reciprocates by cleaning Sam's fur. After Sam dies (apparently of old age), Warm and Pest provide a kitten, Grace, as his replacement. Foudini's wry commentary on Grace's foolish ways evolves to affection and, finally, love, as the ghosts of cats past, as well as Sam, advise him in his dreams. Schaeffer has been accused of getting a little too intense and weighty in her fiction. That's certainly not a problem here. (First printing of 60,000) Read full book review >
THE GOLDEN ROPE by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
Released: June 30, 1996

The author of First Nights (1993), among others, explores the lives of twin sisters whose fates and identities are hopelessly intertwined—an exhaustive (and often exhausting) study of each woman's desperate efforts to establish a separate self. From the beginning, the twins Florence and Doris Meek could read each other's thoughts, as though their two bodies shared a single mind. Growing up, they shared a secret language, as well as a powerful private ethos based on the assumption of firstborn Florence's dominance and Doris's loving submission. As the girls approached adulthood, however, Florence began to long to see herself as unique, and the constant presence of her ``shadow self'' became unbearably oppressive. She managed to break free of her sister by achieving fame as an artist, then fleeing to France, at age 19, as the wife of charismatic playwright Jack Pine. Seven years later, Doris is still too heartbroken by her twin's public claims that she's an orphan with no family to respond coherently to the news that Florence has suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. Did philandering Jack murder his young wife? Did Florence kill herself? Or did she die while she was attempting to flee her domestic life and find utter isolation at last? Doris feels too fragile to address this mystery until decades later, when a helpful journalist, a rueful Jack Pine, and Florence's own diaries propel Doris on a journey through the twins' past that leads her at last toward a life outside her sister's long shadow, enabling her to continue her life with a contentment she had never before known. Circling endlessly around its spare, gloomy themes, this exploration of the meaning of love and individuality nonetheless provides the emotional intensity that Schaeffer's readers look for. Read full book review >
FIRST NIGHTS by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
Released: April 1, 1993

Richly evocative double portrait of two extraordinary yet finally elusive women, silent-screen star Anna Asta and her Caribbean maid Ivy, who meet only after Anna's retirement from films but spend most of their alternating narratives recounting their earlier lives. The first half is dominated by Ivy's recollections of her magical, turbulent childhood on Green Island, but her life—even after the affair that takes her away from the Indies to Nostrand Avenue and a doomed marriage—continues to be shaped by Green Island ``story tailor'' Miss Blue, who listens to her dreams and troubles and then suggests new, more shapely or fulfilling endings. Meanwhile, Anna's life follows Greta Garbo's. Discovered in a Swedish shop by director Max Lilly (Mauritz Stiller), she's brought to Hollywood, where the shy, lumpish farm-girl takes The Studio (MGM) and town by storm in a string of Noble Sinner hits beginning with The Roses (The Torrent). Fired from her second American film, The Siren (The Temptress), Max returns to Sweden to die, while Anna, wondering what's become of a life that now seems compounded entirely of movies, lies, memories, and studio publicity, plunges into an affair with self-destructive costar Charlie Harrow (John Gilbert), a series of abortions, and a parade of fallen heroines until declining European markets force her to try a comedy, Double Trouble (Two-Faced Woman), which makes her realize, devastatingly, that both halves of her personality represented in the film have become equally unreal. A healing epilogue back on Green Island is more fervent than convincing. As usual with Schaeffer (Buffalo Afternoon, 1989, etc.), the weight of lived experience becomes overwhelming, at times oppressive, and the models for that experience—Garbo's career, Andersen's fairy tale ``The Snow Queen''—are designedly inadequate. Schaeffer's exquisite writing burrows too deeply inside her two heroines to allow them, or us, the comfort of wholeness. Read full book review >

Nothing in Schaeffer's previous work is preparation for this formidably long, fiercely ambitious novel (her eighth) about Vietnam and the anguish of one returned vet. Before protagonist Pete Bravado enlists in the army at 17, a lengthy introduction shows his Brooklyn roots: the emigration of his grandfather from Italy; the recognition that Pete, the fifth son, is especially gifted; the loss of familial harmony when Pete's insensitive father George forces Pete's early apprenticeship and the removal of his retarded brother Paul to an institution; and the growth of fear and auger in Pete, which leads him to petty crime and reform school. The next section (half the novel) is set in Vietnam; here Pete becomes Everyvet, the adventure-seeking rookie losing his innocence, seeing other men die, and forced, himself, to kill. Schaeffer does combat convincingly, not skimping on the horror. The crucial scene involves Li, a young Vietnamese peasant woman, whose lyrical account of village life (and her own innocence) being shattered by the war, has opened the novel. Li has met Pete in a Saigon cathouse, made her way to his unit, and gathered valuable intelligence for it; when she gives birth in the jungle, an ARVN soldier slaughters her baby, and Pete breaks his neck. He returns to Brooklyn with enough psychic baggage for a lifetime, seeking "daily life at its dailiest," without success. His marriage to Dolores, a "typical" product of the neighborhood, is overwhelmed by battlefield ghosts, while those closest to him die—first Paul, then his mother Angelina. The years whiz by as Pete shuttles between priest and therapists. Twenty years and two suicide attempts later, on the threshold of a second marriage, and "unfrightened" by a female Oriental therapist, Pete reaches his "buffalo afternoon"—a metaphor for tranquility after labor. In essence, a story about exorcism, about transcending the loss of innocence; this is the problem linking Pete and Li. Unhappily, Pete's drama is played out in a world more clinical than novelistic; some passages read like raw transcript of therapy sessions, while major characters (Li, Angelina) are dumped. Grim reading, then, not because of the subject matter, but because Schaeffer's relentless determinism closes the door to the surprises that enrich and invigorate good fiction. Read full book review >