USE ME by Elissa Schappell


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A long domestic first novel about a daughter’s love for her cancer-stricken father that leaves the reader, on balance, wishing there were less of it. The novel comes in ten sections that could stand, often as not, as stories themselves, and there’s pleasure in Schappell’s way of letting years pass between each installment. In 'Eau de Vie,' for example, American parents tour France with their two daughters, the older of whom, the early-teen Evie, is just awakening to sex. Next, in 'Novice Bitch,' the fast-track New York City girl with split parents having her third abortion, at age 17, will become Evie’s college roommate the next year. The story flashes forward in such jumps’so that in 'To Smoke Perchance to Dream,' Evie is old enough to take up heavy smoking in a superstitious attempt to deflect her father’s cancer onto herself. In 'Use Me,' a near stand-alone, Evie seduces'or maybe doesn't'a famous, repugnant, and egocentric novelist. A summer in Amsterdam ('The Garden of Eden') includes a visit from father (after his first lung surgery) and a falling in love with, then marriage to, a young musician named Billy. In the eloquently observed but slightly forced 'Sisters of the Sound,' Evie half-falls in love with a nun at the convent she’s retreated to late in the pregnancy that she’s taken on as a way to ’save' her father. Granddaughter or not, her father’s health continues to fail as the book, growing into a hyperdetailed saga-of-a-cancer-case, starts to crawl for the reader in almost inverse proportion to the extent that Evie’s loss-of-a-parent crisis speeds up'as this distraught and devoted daughter eats her father’s ashes, has a baby boy, breast-feeds him until he’s three, finds her marriage shaky. Snappy, energetic, sometimes almost supercharged in its writing, Schappell’s is a story, even so, about a person whose love and obsession remain only hers, never become ours.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-688-16557-5
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2000


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