She is Me: A Novel
Some years ago, my grandmother came down with a virulent skin cancer. My mother took care of her, and that care taking took over her life. Then my mother got colon cancer. Suddenly, she couldn’t take care of Grandma, and I was called in to run between the two of them. But…we couldn’t tell my grandmother that my mother was sick. The excuses we came up with during chemotherapy, when my mother was too weak even to see Grandma, became more and more bizarre.
It was wild and, in many ways, hilarious — a sort of sick, loving, exasperated, goofy family farce. The relationships and dependencies and bossiness and love between mothers and daughters was like a whirling storm, but also very, very much like a French farce with people running across the stage to hide behind doors. I started to think, what if you told this story as a farce? And injected into it an actual romance or two? What if in the midst of caring for your mother or your grandmother, not to mention a toddler, you had a secret romance going on? How to be happy, how to live a life, how to love in the midst of family chaos and illness and emotional devsatation? The intersection between private romantic love and family love has always fascinated me.
Madame Bovary has always fascinated me…
This is particularly a story about women, who are so often the ones who deal with these issues of illness. And it is a story of mothers and daughters.
My mother is fine, by the way. My wonderful, incomparable grandmother, who has served as the inspiration for many characters and for an entire comic view of life, died at age 98. There never was and never will be anyone like her. I miss her.
Reviews of She is Me: A Novel
The New Yorker, September 15, 2003, Briefly Noted
Elizabeth Bernard is plucked from obscurity as an untenured New York professor to write the screenplay for a movie, “Mrs. B,” that updates “Madame Bovary” to “the Age of Ikea.” Once she’s been lured to Los Angeles, she grows restless as Flaubert’s heroine, whose initials she shares; she rejects her patient boyfriend’s repeated marriage proposals and longs for her boss, a bullying producer who nixes her scripts because they lack “cutting edge banality.” Schine writes with the speed and punch of a seasoned comic, conveying character in a single line of dialogue. But this sly novel is a silver cloud with a dark lining — both Elizabeth’s mother and grandmother have cancer. Just when we’ve settled in for froth and sparkle, Schine ambushes us with feeling.
The New York Times Sunday Book Review
WHAT could be more depressing than a novel about a beloved mother battling cancer? A novel about two beloved mothers battling cancer, that’s what. Fiftyish Greta lives in Santa Monica with her doctor husband. She works as a landscape designer and cares for her aging mother, Lotte, who has a huge cancerous tumor on her nose. When Greta herself develops colon cancer, her daughter, Elizabeth, moves out from New York with her live-in boyfriend, Brett, and their toddler son. A person could get suicidal just thinking about this domino game of intergenerational elder care.
”She Is Me” shouldn’t be any fun at all. But Cathleen Schine is not in the business of being depressing — or boring. Over the last 20 years, she’s perfected the underappreciated art of the domestic comedy. (continue)