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Use Me

Schappell, Elissa

507 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0688165575 / ISBN 13: 9780688165574
Published by Rob Weisbach Books, New York, New York, U.S.A., 2000
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"For Laura, Best regards. Elissa Schappell. Bookseller Inventory # 007093

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Use Me

Publisher: Rob Weisbach Books, New York, New York, U.S.A.

Publication Date: 2000

Binding: Hard Cover

Book Condition: New

Dust Jacket Condition: New

Signed: Signed by Author

Edition: First Edition.

About this title

Synopsis:

The exquisitely artful fiction debut of Elissa Schappell: a novel told in ten stories that resonate with the most profound experiences in the life of a young woman--friendship and rivalry, the love for a man, the birth of a child, and the death of a father.

Use Me explores the fierce bonds between close friends, fathers and daughters, mothers and children, and the underlying desire and loss inherent in these ever evolving relationships. As she grows from a rebellious adolescent in the preppy suburbs of Delaware to a sexually fraught and reluctant adult in New York City, Evie Wakefield struggles to connect and negotiate intimacy with the men in her life: Chas Wakefield, her larger-than-life father, who has cheated cancer for years; Billy, her sexy, responsibility--shy musician husband; and Charlie, her needy young son.

All the while she attempts to keep up with her best friend and sometime competitor, the sophisticated and reckless Mary Beth McEvoy, who seems to draw to her just what she wants, and holds a mirror to Evie's darkest desires. Use Me vividly captures the undeniable truths of loyalty and betrayal, of heartbreak and sexual yearning, as evoked by a young writer of devastating gifts.

Evie and Mary Beth: two women who could hardly be more different--or more deeply sympathetic. They could be the light and the dark in one person, but in fact they are best friends, occasional competitors, reflections of what's missing from each other's lives. Evie is emotionally articulate, painfully sensitive, and provoked by a desire to inhabit the hearts of those she loves most--her father, sick with cancer; her musician husband; her needful young son. Mary Beth is sharp, sophisticated, and utterly beguiling; the kind of woman who draws to her exactly what she desires (including, in one troubling evening, Evie's father). Perhaps calculated, but certainly careless with her friend's affections, Mary Beth makes her own life seem effortless. And for Evie, she serves as a reminder of the innocent sexual and emotional freedom she longs to recapture.

As her father slips from her grasp, Evie falls into conflict with those she should be pulling close and tries to acknowledge her own weaknesses in the face of doing the right thing. What's revealed in these stories are the undeniable truths of loyalty and betrayal, of heartbreak and sexual yearning, evoked by a young writer of devastating gifts.Evie and Mary Beth: two women who could hardly be more different--or more deeply sympathetic. They could be the light and the dark in one person, but in fact they are best friends, occasional competitors, reflections of what's missing from each other's lives. Evie is emotionally articulate, painfully sensitive, and provoked by a desire to inhabit the hearts of those she loves most--her father, sick with cancer; her musician husband; her needful young son. Mary Beth is sharp, sophisticated, and utterly beguiling; the kind of woman who draws to her exactly what she desires (including, in one troubling evening, Evie's father). Perhaps calculated, but certainly careless with her friend's affections, Mary Beth makes her own life seem effortless. And for Evie, she serves as a reminder of the innocent sexual and emotional freedom she longs to recapture.

As her father slips from her grasp, Evie falls into conflict with those she should be pulling close and tries to acknowledge her own weaknesses in the face of doing the right thing. What's revealed in these stories are the undeniable truths of loyalty and betrayal, of heartbreak and sexual yearning, evoked by a young writer of devastating gifts.

Review:

Elissa Schappell's first novel is so brilliant it practically gives you a suntan. Actually, it's really 10 linked stories that imply a novel, like Melissa Banks's The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, only more literary. (Banks was a clever ad copywriter; Schappell is a veteran of Vanity Fair, The Paris Review, and Tin House.) Use Me tells the life story of a daddy's girl named Evelyn, from her teenage trip to France with her parents and kid sister, through her wild youth and her dad's long battle with cancer, right up to her metamorphosis into a mother of a 2-year-old son who adores vintage punk rock and is slow to give up nursing.

Schappell has a gift for alert first-person narrative, sardonic humor, nuanced sex scenes, child characters as lifelike as (and less sentimental than) Salinger's, and tense conversations that quiver like crossed fencing foils. The book is rife with piercing insights and illuminating turns of phrase. Peering into a loved one's urn, the orally oriented Evie observes that "the bits of burned white bone look like miniature marshmallows in pale cocoa." Her stressed-out mom "looks as breakable as a dime-store comb." A 16-year-old Catholic schoolgirl awaiting her third abortion notices the clinic's "bus-station furniture designed to cause discomfort," the "disco effect" of a flickering fluorescent tube overhead, and inside the light, the "dead flies, all on their backs, legs up and crossed."

The schoolgirl is Evie's best friend, Mary Beth, who narrates Schappell's second-best story, "Novice Bitch," which concerns Mary Beth's post-abortion bonding experience with her mom at a traumatizing dog show. It's poignant and painful--Schappell's favorite emotional cocktail. Mary Beth also comes alive in "The Garden of Eden," which evokes the girls' boho idyll in Amsterdam. But for most of the book, she is sketchy, and little exists beyond the struggles of Evie, her doting and imperiled father, and her lovingly troublesome mother. Evie's husband, sister, and the odd lover are fine as far as they go, which isn't far. There's supposed to be an ongoing subtext about Mary Beth's rivalry for Evie's dad's affections--Mary Beth's father is emotionally AWOL with increasingly younger wives--but Schappell doesn't pull it off. She's better at contrasting the girls' erotic strategies: Mary Beth goes for it, while "Evie thinks it perfectly acceptable to get completely naked with a man and then say, 'Oh, let's just kiss.'"

Two things in Use Me stick with you: the deadly accuracy of the family grief scenes and the enchanted account of Evie's (and Mary Beth's) adolescence. Despite a few flaws, this is an electrifying debut. Elissa Schappell is the genuine article. --Tim Appelo

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