“Playing with Fire” by Dani Shapiro

After I read and admired Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing, I wanted to read her fiction, to see the works she referred to in that book. I had to resort to an inter-library loan to get my hand on Dani Shapiro’s first novel, Playing with Fire, which is out of print and not available electronically.

Lucy Greenberg leaves for Smith College, and meets Carolyn, her assured and mysterious roommate. Lucy grew up in an observant Orthodox Jewish home. Carolyn’s mother is glamourous, and her stepfather is wealthy and powerful. As the two families intersect, Lucy’s world gets blown apart. Then something truly terrible happens. The format, in which Lucy writes her version of the story to Carolyn, didn’t always work for me, but the story itself utterly enthralled me.

There are many versions to this story, Carolyn. You have yours, I have mine, he has his. I never meant to hurt you, but this, of course, is a moot point.

You are somewhere in New York City. You are in restaurants, at the opera, in seedy Irish bars, on the subway Even though I am thousands of miles, light-years away, I imagine I see you on every street corner

Carolyn, if I never ask you anything else, I must ask you this: is this what you wanted, perhaps from the very beginning?

I tore through this book. It reminded me of a female version of Michael Chabon’s Mysteries of Pittsburgh. It’s a coming of age novel about a girl whose world goes from small to huge to unimaginable in a short space of time. There are so many things touched on here: family, religion, sex and sexuality, education, loss, and finding oneself. I’m sorry the book is out of print, because I wanted to give a copy to my sister, to whom I had recommended it. I look forward to reading Shapiro’s later book, Slow Motion, her memoir about many of the things she fictionalized in Playing with Fire.

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