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WHAT SHE SAW IN... by Lucinda Rosenfeld


by Lucinda Rosenfeld

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 2000
ISBN: 0-375-50375-7
Publisher: Random House

An episodic chronicle about low self-esteem that's intelligent and well observed but mired in a callow attitude devoid of perspective.

Lacking the goofy charm of Bridget Jones or the satisfying growth and closure of High Fidelity, this memoir-ish debut offers instead the biting cynicism and self-lacerating humor of a prematurely embittered young sophisticate manqué. Each chapter-or, perhaps more properly, story, as this is as much collection as novel-is named for one of the boys or men who Phoebe Fine, passing from the age of 11 to 25, has used to define herself. Growing up in suburban New Jersey in the '70s and '80s, the daughter of effete, ineffectual, classical musician parents, Phoebe, smart, Jewish, and pretty, lacks any sense of self-worth. Sent to a private school full of rich kids, dressed unfashionably or in designer seconds, Phoebe, who plays the violin and runs track, settles into the role of outsider. Starting with Stinky Mancuso, hardcore bad boy of the fifth grade, though (who-inexplicably, to Phoebe-takes a liking to her and then disappears), she forges an identity from the attention of men. As Phoebe goes from prep school to college sorority (with bouts of anorexia and bulimia) and on to New York City, Rosenfeld recounts her affairs. Spitty Clark, a solicitous, not-too-bright frat boy, turns out to have a reputation as a date-rapist; Phoebe embraces him to defy her condescending sorority sisters. Claude Duvet is the Frenchman she imagines she'll meet in Paris, but he never materializes and she returns home, defeated. Phoebe seduces Bruce Bledstone, a married college professor, but his intellectual aloofness, which lets her imagine herself as part of a more rarefied world than that of her peers, turns against her and makes their affair into an excruciatingly drawn-out thing. And so on.

Portrait of the writer as a young drama queen: entertaining enough, but at the same time both a bit much and not much more.