Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York by Gail Parent
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|Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York by Gail Parent|
|Category: Women's Fiction|
|Reviewer: Zoe Morris|
|Summary: 30 and unmarried, what's a girl to do? Sheila realises there's no hope and plans to end her life leaving behind this, the most entertaining suicide note you'll ever read.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 223||Date: January 2004|
|Publisher: Overlook Press|
Oy vey! Sheila Levine is down on her luck. Try as she might to meet a nice, Jewish boy to marry, she just keeps ending up with schmucks. The wrong side of 30, single and living in Manhattan, well if only she’d taken her mother’s advice at the time. Now it’s too late. There is no hope. The only thing Sheila can do is respectfully take her own life (having made all the arrangements and tied up the loose ends beforehand, of course. Nice girls always clean up after themselves).
I didn’t know what to expect with this book, and the cover didn’t help, even though it’s the 2004 reissue rather than the 1972 original. But, to quote Sheila, it was swell. And I enjoyed every second of it.
70s Sheila has problems that aren’t that different from those of us young ‘uns today. She struggles to find a meaningful job that pays her enough to rent a nice apartment, runs constantly from her mother and her well-meaning advice, and is trying to chase down that elusive nice Jewish boy who will propose quickly and whisk her off to her dream job (being a wife and a mommy). I loved that bit. You very rarely hear nowadays of girls whose ambition is to grow up, get hitched, and stay at home and raise a family. We’re supposed to be more ambitious than that, and yet Sheila is about as ambitious as they come, even if her ambitions are more about furs and handbags than board rooms and briefcases.
Sheila is a hoot and a half. A book about suicide shouldn’t be this entertaining, but this one is hilarious, due in large part to Sheila’s devil may care attitude and the frankness with which she talks about her life. She is brilliantly open about orgasms and brilliantly naive about recreational drugs. She is a college graduate from a nice, middle class family, but, oooh, if her mother only knew what she was up to. She will soon, of course. When she reads Sheila’s suicide note it will all become abundantly clear. Someone had better have the smelling salts to hand at that point.
There are a few things which date the book, but in a darling way. The biggest one is the reference to money, with monthly salaries and rents being a fraction of what they are now. It’s hard to tell how in proportion things are, but the general gist is clear: it’s hard working being a young, single girl living in the city, especially when you need to use your rent money for accessories and other things more likely to attract a suitor.
In the end, it’s Sheila’s last days leading up to her scheduled suicide that are her most fun. She starts to worry less and enjoy herself more, throwing caution to the wind, spending her hard earned money more freely on fancy lingerie (you can’t be buried in something bobbly and grey), darling clothes (for the open casket, of course) and taxis (because you can’t take it with you). Ironically it seems that Sheila has to die in order to start living.
This book far surpassed my expectations. It was funny, heart-warming, surprising and sweet. I read the whole thing with a Jewish American accent (Hollywood tells me there’s such a thing) and I loved the point at which it ended because it was just so Sheila. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up from a fellow unmarried 30 something. Ignoring the suicidal intentions, this book left me thinking that if Sheila can do it, so can I.
Thanks go to the publishers for supplying this book.
Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy by Helen Fielding could have been Sheila a few years later, had the suicide plan not come into her head.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York by Gail Parent at Amazon.com.
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