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SHIKSA GODDESS by Wendy Wasserstein

SHIKSA GODDESS

or, How I Spent My Forties

By Wendy Wasserstein

Pub Date: May 15th, 2001
ISBN: 0-375-41165-8
Publisher: Knopf

A scattered collection of 25 personal, mostly pithy magazine and newspaper pieces from the Pulitzer-winning playwright, with a couple of moving, deeply meditative entries for added heft.

When she’s not procrastinating on her latest Broadway play, Wasserstein (The Heidi Chronicles, etc.) supplements her income on assignment for the New York Times and New Woman, et al. She can be forgiven, then, the occasional tossed-off celebrity puff piece or 500-word exegesis on body weight (a favorite topic). Taken together, though, they make for a pick-and-choose perusal at best, rather than a satisfying, sit-down read. But this is Wasserstein, after all, the celebrated chronicler of haute, neurotic society, and any time spent with her promises not a few funny, conspiratorial glances at the silliness that surrounds us. There’s the very public discoveries of Jewish heritage among politicians, for starters, lending Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright some claim to chosen-people status and thus leading Wasserstein—“Shiksa Goddess”—out of her “Episcopalian” closet. And self-deprecating to the end, the author—a “walking magnet for fats, sugars, and useless carbos”—imagines a transformed world of fashion and advertising glamorized by the curvaceous and bodacious (“Waif Goodbye, Hello Bulge”): “By now everyone knows Byelorussia, the five-foot-four, 250-pound, blue-eyed cover girl whose signature style is flat shoes and elastic-waistband skirts.” Beyond the parody, there are some abrupt, though welcome, shifts into the earnest and emotional—most notably the last two pieces, in which the single Wasserstein plots a course for pregnancy, changes her mind, watches her sister die of cancer, and then (in last year’s heralded New Yorker piece “Days of Awe”) gives birth at 26 weeks to Lucy Jane. It’s a small piece of writing hidden at the end of too much frivolity that points to Wasserstein as one of the most effective personal essayists we have.

For the Wasserstein fan who remembers reading something of hers somewhere sometime and wants to rediscover it—others will wonder what all the fuss is about. Skip to the end.