"An immensely interesting novel, The Neighbors Are Watching just may cause readers to look more closely out of their own windows."
A novel from Ginsberg (The Grift, 2008, etc.)
about a middle-class, seemingly genteel San Diego neighborhood teeming with
secrets that unravel in the aftermath of a California wildfire. Spreading fire
forces the residents to evacuate in October 2007. Once the neighbors return
home, they realize that one of them has disappeared: Diana, a teenage mother
who has been living in her father's house for only a few months. Flash back to
July and pregnant Diana's sudden arrival - she had been raised by her
African-American mother in Las Vegas - which badly disrupts the childless
marriage of her dad Joe, a restaurant manager who has avoided any contact with
his daughter, and his pretty blond wife Allison. Through the summer and fall
Allison, who still resents that Joe pressed her to abort when she became
pregnant early in their relationship, slips into a drunken funk, while Joe
slides into an affair with a sleazy neighbor. Diana hangs out with Kevin, the
neighborhood druggie. Kevin's uptight parents Dick and Dorothy seem like
Republican caricatures, but Dorothy is covering up more than her daily pill-popping.
And her unlikely confidante is Sam, half of the lesbian couple across the
street. Thrown together through their kindergarten-age sons, Sam and her
younger lover Gloria left their husbands for each other, but their passionate
relationship has been disintegrating since the ex-husbands sued successfully
for custody of the boys. By the day of the fire, Diana has given birth to baby
Zoe and rejected both Allison's pressure to put Zoe up for adoption and Kevin's
marriage proposal. When the evacuation order comes, Allison leaves the
house - and her marriage - assuming Joe will come home to get his daughter and
granddaughter. But Sam is the one who finds Zoe alone in Diana's bedroom.
Diana's disappearance exposes open wounds among all the families whose lives she
Suburban noir - dark, funny and sometimes creepy; readers
may be surprised at the amount of empathy they end up feeling for
When pregnant 17-year-old Diana shows up on her biological father's
doorstep, Joe must confess to his wife that he has a daughter by an
ex-girlfriend. The resulting strain on their marriage lets lonely neighbor
Jessalyn finally get her hooks into Joe. Just down the street, lesbian couple
Sam and Gail struggle to find comfort in each other when their ex-husbands get
custody of their kids. And Neighborhood Watch captains Dorothy and Dick Werner
are too concerned with appearances to see their son's dangerous drug addiction.
Diana's disappearance during San Diego's wildfire evacuation is the final blow
to the quiet neighborhood's facade. In the months following, the neighbors
pitch in to raise Diana's abandoned four-week-old infant, as their own lives
are falling apart. VERDICT Ginsberg (The Grift) has written a gripping suburban
suspense novel with real people at its core. This will appeal to fans of
domestic suspense (by, e.g., Mary Higgins Clark, Lisa Gardner) as well as Tom
Perrotta's suburban exposÚs. Karen Kleckner, Deerfield P.L., IL
York Times - Liesl Schillinger
shows a remarkable capacity to inhabit the minds and motives of others, her
mental camera panning impressively to take in not only a lead character or two
but extras as well...Leaving aside any question of tingling paranormal subtext, The
Grift presents a lifelike, multishaded rendering of San
Diego's blend of cultures, classes, ancestries and
motivations. Ms. Ginsberg folds Marina into the lives and complicated romances
of the locals like a stripe of colored sand in a painted-desert souvenir
bottle...The Grift is a gift with no strings attached, no dark outcome to
dread, a satisfyingly voyeuristic vision of a mysterious stranger's
supernaturally charged fortune.
Marks, the haunted heroine of DebraGinsberg's clever thriller, The
Grift, considers herself to be an honest psychic. Unlike those "Gypsies, santeros and voodooiennes" who ply their trade in her
South Florida community by sacrificing live chickens and sticking pins into
dolls, Marina makes her own shady living by her wits. Applying sharp
observation and intuition, she wins the confidence of needy clients like Mrs.Golden, who entrusts her with a
valuable ruby ring in the belief that the gift will protect the elderly woman's
beloved son from harm. But that ring proves a curse when Marina
skips to San Diego
and develops a new client base.
has a nice way with offbeat characters like Madeline, the pampered wife of a
very rich, very angry man; Cooper, whose "boundary issues" hinder his pursuit
of a closeted gay psychiatrist; and Eddie, a womanizer who won't take "Get
lost, you creep" for an answer. Once Marina's
true psychic gifts kick in, making it impossible for her to lie, her clients
turn nasty. Given her own storytelling gift, Ginsberg
easily counters the suggestion that her plot is schematic. As Marina
would testify, "The very concept of randomness was something created to stave
off the crush of inevitability."
a rollicking novel, full of lies and uncontrollable fictions."
smoothly sketches captivatingly flawed characters." --Entertainment Weekly
"Debra Ginsberg's compelling second nove...isn't so much a mystery as a story
about a woman forced to take a hard look at herself and find the courage to
change." --The Boston
Globe "The Grift mixes mystery and romance...[and] is embellished with a
host of lively misfits, a serial philanderer, a spoiled rich woman hoping to
get pregnant and a gay man in unrequited love."
pleasantly chilling, end-of-summer read."
an interesting read from the psychic side of the crystal ball, with sleazy
characters and some good twists."
-- The Rocky Mountain News
Publishers Weekly Ginsberg's second novel is an entertaining whodunit and an invigorating tale about a damaged young storefront psychic who learns how to live truthfully. Although she has worked as a psychic since childhood, Marina Marks does not believe that psychic abilities exist. Instead, she uses her intuition and observational skills to hoodwink her clients. Arriving in Southern California from Florida, she acquires a new set of clients: Madeleine, the hostess, desperate to maintain her hold on her wealthy husband; Cooper, in love with a psychiatrist who refuses to admit that he is gay; and Eddie, a married womanizer frustrated by his inability to seduce Marina. Ginsberg deftly shows how Marina cultivates her clients' dependency--and her own income--from their desperation, as well as how easily her clients' trust in her deteriorates. Soon, the threat of violence that Marina left Florida to escape flares up anew, and Marina begins to suspect, to her confusion and dismay, that she may actually be psychic. Ginsberg thoroughly exploits her clever premise, and Marina's handling of her trouble--romantic, professional, mystical--ring true through to the redemptive end.
The New York Times Book Review (Editor's Choice) Reviewed by Andrew Ervin
novel is a hilarious insider's look at both the frantic goings-on at a
high-profile literary agency and the hoops would-be authors will jump
through to land a deal. When Angel Robinson loses her bookstore job in
San Francisco, she goes to work for a powerful literary agent best
known for her work promoting "Cold!" an enormously successful Inuit
memoir. Six weeks into her new career, Angel pulls a few pages of a
strange manuscript from the slush pile: "There was no return address,
no phone number and no name. Was the anonymous-author conceit supposed
to tie in to the novel itself? Or was it just to keep us interested
enough to ask for more?" As subsequent chapters arrive, they begin to
depict events uncannily similar to Angel's own recent history.
Discovering the author's identity makes for a clever mystery as
Ginsberg adroitly amps up the suspense. Is it Angel's sarcastic and
unlikable boyfriend? The flirtatious Italian pastry-shef-turned-author
whose first book Angel has successfully championed? Is it -- as her
boss believes -- Angel herself? Most important, does the murder
described near the manuscript's conclusion mean bad things are about to
happen in Angel's real life?
The Washington Post Reviewed by Carolyn See Angel
Robinson, an intelligent, beautiful Northern California woman in her
20s, suddenly finds herself out of a job when the independent bookstore
where she works goes belly-up. Malcolm, her hunky-enough boyfriend, who
works as a waiter while writing his novel, serendipitously finds her
what he says must be the perfect job: assistant to the most famous
literary agent on the West Coast -- Lucy Fiamma. The fun begins. I
can't accurately assess what the non-writing public may think of this
wickedly goofy satire (and, I think, roman a clef), but the closer you
are to the world of books, the more you'll laugh. Lucy
Fiamma is not exactly the retiring type. She's a wild-eyed loony with a
very serious case of borderline personality disorder. She specializes
in first-time writers from whom she extracts blockbuster books that she
sells to East Coast editors for enormous amounts of money. (Oddly, most
of her writers don't hang around for the second-book experience.) Her
most important writer so far is an ethnic one, an Inuit named only
Karanuk, whose first novel, "Cold!," has been an enormous bestseller.
Lucy takes credit for the fame -- she's the one who thought of the
exclamation point -- and has fashioned her flamboyant office in the
shape of an igloo. She has a shock of startling white-blond hair, a
wardrobe that evolves more and more outrageously as the narration
continues, and moves in double-quick-time from seductive to sadistic to
seductive again: "Natalie, my dear," Lucy may say in one breath, "are
we in business on this delicious book?" and then spend her next 10,000
breaths haranguing her desperate, underpaid, put-upon staff. This is
the outfit that Angel signs on with. To
paraphrase Milton, Angel has the strength of 10 because her heart is
pure. For one thing, she's the only one in this closed world without a
hidden agenda. (The reader sees right away that her weaselly boyfriend
found her the job only because he yearns for Lucy as an agent.) Angel's
got good manners and civility on her side -- qualities in very short
supply in the hell-office Lucy Fiamma calls home. Editors can hardly
bear to speak to Lucy -- perhaps because of all the money they've
coughed up to her. Her successful writers avoid her as much as they
can, preferring to deal with the ever-amiable Angel. And Lucy is
sheltered by her staff from the hordes of awful writers, unpublished
writers and almost certifiably insane writers who telephone every
couple of seconds, intent on getting somebody to read their terrible
800-page manuscripts. One
of these "blind submissions" is from Damiano Vero, an "Italian pastry
chef living in San Francisco," who has written about his days as a
heroin addict back home in Milano. The writing is unexpectedly good.
Angel discovers it and takes it to Lucy, who in between setting her
employees against each other and driving everybody nuts is a terrific
agent. She sells the book at auction and makes them all a lot of money.
Damiano prefers, of course, to work with Angel. Then
Angel gets another, much more ominous blind submission. It's something
like "The Devil Wears Prada," except that this is set in a literary
agency. The Lucy Fiamma character is portrayed as warm and motherly,
while Angel is cast as a bitter, scheming witch. The author prefers to
remain anonymous. Whoever can it be? The
pleasure comes in waves; not just in Lucy's tirades or Malcolm's
treachery, but in the many luckless, pathetic, exasperating
submissions, and the equally luckless, pathetic, exasperating efforts
of clueless book people attempting to do business. Anyone who longs to
become a professional writer would do well to read this novel because
even as it stretches the boundaries of disbelief, you remember that --
on the contrary -- "Blind Submission" is right on the money. This
is also a book about mothers and daughters, competition, generosity and
success. Angel's own birth mother is a bit of a flake, always out in
some sweat lodge or other, learning the ways of sorcerers and witches.
Angel tends to feel a fair amount of scorn for her, and to feel
neglected as well. But when Angel becomes Lucy's protege, she
encounters a real devil-mother who teaches her, smothers her, sabotages
her, envies her, probably even loves her -- even as she elicits the
same scary emotions in Angel. Her own mom begins to look pretty good.
(As does the darling Damiano, who does her the favor of loving her for
the agent being satirized here is who I think she is, I need to state
for the record that she's intelligent and large-hearted enough to get a
kick out of this. (It's not her fault that she hypnotizes editors like
chickens and then takes all their money!) But the real story here is
the American book business today -- a world so skewed, tweaked and
warped that it's almost impossible to satirize. If you're a book person
(and why else would you be reading a book review?) give yourself a
treat and take a look at "Blind Submission." USA Today Reviewed by Carol Memmott Everyone loves a story about a boss who gets her comeuppance, but a well-written story about a boss who gets 40 whacks spawns insurmountable joy in this reader. Blind Submission,
memoirist Debra Ginsberg's first novel, is a cleverly told,
genre-bending tale that combines intrigue, romance, a touch of mystery
and strong female characters. With
much trepidation, Angel Robinson accepts a job with the Lucy Fiamma
Literary Agency in Marin County. She has a passion for books, but
there's no love lost between her and the driven and demeaning Fiamma.
Just like Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, Fiamma excels at making her underlings feel lower than gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe. One of the book's more clever attributes is the use of a proposed novel entitled Blind Submission in the Blind Submission
story line. An anonymous author e-mails chapters of the book to Angel,
who discovers that the story includes intimate details about her love
life and her relationships with her office mates. Alice,
the female protagonist in the e-mailed chapters, mirrors Angel in many
ways, but Alice is a murdering (literally), conniving backstabber.
Angel is not. To
Angel's consternation, she realizes she has "been living inside a book
for as long as I could remember. And now I was living inside Blind Submission, a book about books, which was, in its own perverse way, about me." Book
lovers will enjoy Ginsberg's dead-on look at the publishing industry.
The constant search for the next big book. Publishers' unimaginative
hunt for the next Da Vinci Code. The acknowledgement of Oprah Winfrey as a player in book selling and the unpredictable nature of the business. You
may not like Lucy Fiamma, but she knows what she's talking about:
"Nobody has any imagination anymore and they're all scared to buy
anything that isn't incredibly safe or has been done before. I mean,
really, how many celebrity children's books do we need. Or prize
winning authors writing cookbooks?"
The Boston Globe Reviewed by Diane White "Blind Submission," Debra Ginsberg's first
novel, is a sendup of book publishing that targets some of that
industry's flaws and excesses - and indulges in a few of them, just for
fun. The formula is familiar: Resourceful but naive young woman meets
nightmarish boss. Ginsberg herself is resourceful but far from naive in
satirizinbg book publishing. She knows just what she's doing, nipping at the hand that feeds her, just hard enough to get some attention.
The independent bookstore where Angel Robinson has worked for years is
about to go out of business, so her aspiring-novelist boyfriend Malcolm
urges her to apply for "the perfect job," administrative assistant to
the powerful San Francisco literary agent Lucy Fiamma. Angel soon finds
herself working in a paranoia-driven office for a demanding, possibly
deranged woman. It's clear from the get-go that Lucy is impossible, but
Angel is so impressed by Lucy's reputation and so thrilled to be
working in publishing that she manages to ignore or explain away the
woman's nutty behavior. Lucy made her name by discovering the reclusive
Inuit author Karanak, whose best-selling Oprah-endorsed memoir,
"Cold!," was a sensation, but as Angel soon learns, Lucy is a poor
judge of writing and inept at dealing with authors. However, Lucy can't
help but see that Angel is an astute reader and an inspired editor who
can spot promising manuscripts and make them saleable. One of Angel's
finds, Damiano Vero, is an Italian pastry chef whose memoir of heroin
addiction and recovery sells for half a million dollars. And Angel has
some other promising manuscripts in the works, including one titled
"Blind Submission," a novel set in a literary agency about a
manipulative assistant with evil designs on her boss. The anonymous
author e-mails one chapter at a time. The fictional events described in
each chapter seem increasingly familiar to Angel. Someone she knows is
writing about the most intimate details of her life, and the plot seems
to be leading to murder. Could it be Malcolm, whose novel has been
rejected by the agency? Might it be Anna, her envious co-worker? Or a
disgruntled author? Readers will have fingered the culprit long before
the end, but that doesn't detract from the pleasure of reading this neatly crafted satire of the contemporary publishing world.
Ginsberg, who has written several memoirs, including "Waiting," an
account of her years as a waitress, must also have labored in the
literary trenches, because she does a fine and funny job describing the ruthless competition within the industry to land the Next Big Book.
The San Diego Union-Tribune Reviewed by Katy Yocom "The
Devil Wears Prada' meets literary thriller: It's easy to imagine San
Diego author Debra Ginsberg pitching "Blind Submission," her debut
novel, this way. Ginsberg
knows the publishing business from both sides. As an author, she has
three memoirs under her belt: 2001's acclaimed "Waiting," as well as "Raising Blaze" and "About My Sisters." She has worked in a literary
agency and also as a freelance editor, and she puts her knowledge to
canny yet charming use in this novel (about a literary agency) within a
novel (about a literary agency). The
author's insider knowledge provides one of the chief delights of this
book: Nobody has ever written a literary agency with the authority
Ginsberg brings to this one. Packages from chain-smoking authors arrive
reeking of stale tobacco; heavyweight New York editors call to say they
can't talk just now; the day of a manuscript auction arrives with a
nearly sexual rush. Ginsberg even gives readers the fun of peeking at
hopeful authors' cover letters and manuscripts, good and awful. Into
this milieu stumbles Angel Robinson, newly hired assistant to San
Francisco uber-agent Lucy Fiamma. From her first minute on the job,
Angel is in over her head, yet she's also caught up in the thrill of it. Angel
quickly discovers she has a feel for her work. She can sniff out a good
story even when it's hidden beneath mediocre writing, can help authors
see new possibilities in their own manuscripts. She also has a triple
whammy of job-related pressure: a 24/7 workload, a boyfriend leaning on
her to show Lucy the manuscript he's written and a bevy of
back-stabbing office-mates jockeying for Lucy's approval. While
Angel is everything a chick-lit protagonist should be - young,
appealing, good at her job and soon to be available for new romantic
possibilities - it is Lucy, reigning over her fiefdom from a pristine
chromium-and-white office, who provides the pulse of the novel.
Everything she does is charged; every move her assistants make is done
with the frantic desire to please her or avoid angering her. Entering
Lucy's domain is a surreal experience: "Lucy
was standing in the middle of her office, arms and hands raised in a
steeple above her head, exhaling expansively. She was dressed, head to
toe, in blinding white. ...Her hair, already a whiter shade of pale,
floated loose around her face and seemed, like the rest of her, to be
electrified. The brilliant green of her eyes and the scarlet cut of her
mouth provided the only color in the entire office. For a brief,
overtired moment, I thought I'd entered Narnia and was face-to-face
with the White Witch. " 'Yoga!' she barked, releasing her arms. 'You should try it.' " Just
as you find yourself thinking "The Nanny Diaries" or "The Devil Wears
Prada," Angel receives the first installment of an anonymously
submitted manuscript - a blind submission - that she herself compares
to those very books. The manuscript, titled "Blind Submission," is
about ... a new assistant at a literary agency headed by a powerhouse
much like Lucy. The
succeeding installments at first mimic Angel's life only generally, but
soon they begin to hit unnervingly close to home. Is the author
stalking her, or even manipulating events in her life? Is Angel, or the
people she loves, in danger? Ginsberg expertly ups the ante as the
installments arrive, moving Angel slowly into the territory of paranoia
as the coincidences pile up in ever more menacing fashion. This
novel serves up what a skilled literary assistant like Angel would
recognize as marketable: a good story that treads familiar territory
yet introduces a fresh twist. With savvy plotting and writing that hits
its stride after the first dozen or so pages, "Blind Submission"
delivers on its promise of a smart, fun ride through the publishing
The Boulder Daily Camera Reviewed by Jessica Morgan In
a world of fads that turn human beings into sheep, the novel is king.
Or, at least, popular literature is not exempt from the crowd-pleasing
recycling of a well-liked story line. Why sell "The Da Vinci Code" only
once if one can change the name of the character, set the book in a
different place, and sell it again? Initially,
Debra Ginsberg's first fiction book, "Blind Submission," seems to be
one of these recycled novels. It begins as a publishing version of "The
Devil Wears Prada," rehashing the trials and tribulations of an
ambitious young woman caught between a low-paying yet satisfying job
she enjoys and a cruel boss she hates. Yet it becomes apparent very
quickly that "Blind Submission" is using this trendy storyline to make
fun of itself and the publishing world. Ginsberg's
protagonist, Angel Robinson, is a true bibliophile. "For me, a stacked,
unread pyramid of books was one of the sexiest architectural designs
there was. Because what I loved most about books was their promise, the
anticipation of what lay between the covers, waiting to be found," she
rhapsodizes. When the independent book store Angel manages goes out of
business, her boyfriend suggests she answer an ad to work as the
administrative assistant for one of the biggest names in publishing,
Lucy Fiamma. Angel
excels as Fiamma's assistant. Her love of books and empathy for writers
makes her an asset in discovering sellable works among the many
manuscripts sent to Fiamma's office, including a memoir written by
Damiano Vero, an Italian pastry chef and former heroin addict who
replaces Angel's self-obsessed boyfriend as a romantic interest. "Blind
Submission" heats up when Angel comes across the first pages of an
anonymous manuscript - aptly titled "Blind Submission" - chronicling
the rise and fall of a publishing administrative assistant. The
manuscript looks like it will become one of Fiamma's newest bestsellers
until further chapters of the manuscript, continuously submitted by the
unknown author, begin to hit too close to home. As Angel's personal
life becomes a roller-coaster ride, the lead character of "Blind
Submission" shares strikingly similar trials and tribulations. When the
author submits new pages that give the title character a tattoo eerily
similar to a tattoo on Angel's chest, she begins to fear for her safety
and struggles to discover the identity of the author. Ginsberg...has
a lot of fun mocking the world of publishing and its desire to print
sellable novels regardless of the quality of writing. Literary readers
will have an enjoyable time tying the fictional book ideas in "Blind
Submission" to current and former bestsellers. To her credit, the
author of three memoirs doesn't insulate her own work from mockery.
When faced with Damiano Vero's manuscript, an irritated Fiamma
describes memoirs as the "wicked stepchild of publishing." Some
of the most memorable and laugh-out-loud moments in "Blind Submission"
come from book ideas sent in by unpublished authors, including "Pretty
Feet," a novel about a woman's quest for love in spite of her misshapen
feet, and a proposed memoir from a woman whose cat has helped her
develop a recipe book. Her recipe for "Hairy Mac and Cheese" is
included in her submittal. "Blind
Submission" makes for a delightful and humorous read with ample sarcasm
and dry wit to entice even those who shun the "The Devil Wears Prada"
genre - and enough mystery to keep a reader turning pages late into the
Booklist *Starred Review* Ginsberg has delighted readers with her candor and humor in three popular memoirs, including Raising Blaze
(2002). She now brings her wit and pinpoint psychology to fiction in a
gleefully caustic tale that is not so much a whodunit as a
who-wrote-it. Ginsberg's heat-seeking novel tracks the high-anxiety
misadventures of Angel [Robinson], a booklover who becomes a badgered
assistant to an extravagantly cruel, histrionic, and elaborately
attired literary agent, Lucy Fiamma. Yes, this is the book-world
version of The Devil Wears Prada (2003), albeit more artful.
Blind submissions are manuscripts sent in cold to the agency, while
Lucy's staff practices a stunned compliance one might describe as blind
submission. Angel is learning to hold steady under Lucy's onslaughts,
but she is growing alarmed over the creepy parallels between her life
and Blind Submission, an anonymously authored mystery set in a
literary agency and sent to her in emailed installments. Is the author
her wannabe writer boyfriend? Her angry, possibly deranged coworker? An
affectionate skewering of the ludicrous side of the book business and a
claws-out send-up of the perversities of power, Ginsberg's blithe blend
of mystery, romance, and satire is smart, classy, and fun. --Donna Seaman YA/M: Angel is teen-magnet, and her struggles with miserable people are a riot and most instructive. DS. Copyright American Library Association. All rights reserved
Publishers Weekly Memoirist
Ginsberg (Waiting; Raising Blaze) gracefully transitions into fiction
with a fresh twist on the aggrieved publishing assistant. Angel
Robinson is a voracious reader excited to land a job at the prestigious
Lucy Fiamma Literary Agency in San Francisco, but she quickly finds
herself overwhelmed in the maelstrom of an office. Angel, forever
lugging manuscripts home, discovers she has a knack for turning
mediocre manuscripts into moneymakers, a talent Lucy handsomely
capitalizes on. When an anonymous submission set in a Bay Area literary
agency is e-mailed in, Angel begins hammering it into salable shape. At
first, the parallels between the manuscript and her life are innocuous
enough, but as subsequent chapters appear in her inbox and she
corresponds via e-mail with the author (coyly called "G. A. Novelist"),
the story begins to reveal intimate details about Angel's life and to
contain thinly veiled threats. Could her foundering writer boyfriend be
the culprit? A jealous co-worker? Another of Lucy's clients? A game of
e-mail cat and mouse unfolds as Angel continues working on the
manuscript and her dragon-lady boss angles to sell it. Though not
nail-bitingly suspenseful, the plot is twisty enough to keep readers
guessing to the end. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
"Ginsberg makes a lively jump from memoir to fiction with this witty, rollicking ride." -- The San Francisco Chronicle
About My Sisters
Waiting tables and parenting: two of the least appreciated jobs. So Debra Ginsberg deserves twice the sympathy. And gets twice the fodder for her new career, writing. For more than 20 years, she dealt with shoddy tips, adulterous chefs, malicious hostesses and even Yellowstone (yes, the park). She worked those trying gigs to support her son as she dealt with his advanced mind and how he was pigeonholed as a "problem child." So, when it comes to restaurants and child rearing, we'd bet 10 bucks Ginsberg has a tale to share, compare and contrast. And we'd win.
But we did think she'd be stumped after penning Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress and Raising Blaze, her documents of chasing after diners and her child. Maybe the ol' writer's block would hit after sharing such spirited memoirs. She's already detailed the butt-groping at a conservative dining club, described the intense and irksome experiences of relationships with fellow servers and related to parents who are bringing up someone "different" in a society that bear-hugs normal. What other autobiographical info is left for her to spin into a page-turner that feels more like a cherished television series and reads as easily (but far more intelligently) as a cheap romance?
She picked an obvious but often overlooked topic: siblings. Released just this week, About My Sisters may have a hackneyed title, but it delves into the eccentricities that come with sisterly and familial relationships. The odd bonds, the shared thought processes, that whole footstep-following thing. And she does have a brother, so it's not just some book version of a lifelong chick flick.
In her earlier two creations, Ginsberg has pried out her own memories for the sake of the reader. She hasn't stopped so far and, frankly, we hope she won't. Ginsberg has highlighted two big life lessons in her previous books: Don't label those you don't understand and, whatever you do, don't tip less than 20 percent. So after serving her audience with literary treats for four years, Ginsberg's Wednesday book signing gives readers the opportunity to tip (at least our hat) and offer the compliment of requesting a signature from the ultimate single mom/waitress/sister/writer.
Poignant....Debra Ginsberg takes a bighearted look at the ties that bind and the bonds that break and mend again.
Ginsberg is on her way to becoming a professional memoirist: she’s penned books on raising a child, her life as a waitress, and now, on her eccentric, close-knit family, focusing on sisterhood. With eloquence, deep feeling and altruism, Ginsberg (Waiting; Raising Blaze) depicts the life of her family through a year of celebrations and crises. Each event unleashes a cascade of memories that circle back, by the end of each chapter, to expose a particular facet of the four sisters’ complicated relations with one another and the rest of the family. Ginsberg writes of her youngest sister Deja’s ability to cure her driving phobia; Lavendar’s talent for getting Ginsberg’s son to act responsibly; the exalted position of her brother in a family of girls; the family’s competitiveness; and her lifelong intimacy with her sister Maya, with whom she lives: “I never even put `sister’ before her name when I talk about her. She is the part of me who is Maya.” Ginsberg seems to be answering a math problem: with two parents, five grown children, one grandchild and a varying number of boyfriends, how many different combinations are possible? As parents, children and siblings group and regroup in the complex dance of family relationships, each individual’s soul emerges. Quarrels often erupt during the family’s frequent get-togethers, but never for a moment will readers doubt their loyalty to one another. Ginsberg’s nonfiction is as entertaining as a novel, but its greatest achievement is showing how love is not an emotion but an action, living and growing. (Mar.) Forecast: Anyone remotely interested in family life-not just sisterhood-will be interested in Ginsberg’s story. Those who read Raising Blaze will want to pick it up, too, since it satisfyingly rounds out the picture of the author’s family that was hinted at in Blaze. It also leaves the door open for a sequel. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
In her third memoir, Ginsberg (Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress; Raising Blaze: Bringing Up an Extraordinary Son in an Ordinary World) covers a year in the life of her extended family, centering on her relationships with her three younger sisters. Maya, Lavender, and Deja (15 years younger than Debra) all share the responsibility of bringing up Debra’s special-needs son (the subject of Raising Blaze). While in this light the sisters may seem more intimate than most, the author insists that they share “generalities” that make them like most siblings. As readers follow the Ginsberg family (which also includes Debra’s parents, brother, son, and various boyfriends) through gatherings and informal get-togethers, the author chronicles intimate moments, cooperation, confusion, misunderstandings, and quarrels. These incidents, in turn, lead to flashbacks of shared memories of growing up with hippie parents who moved from place to place. This witty, entertaining account of a loving, intergenerational, and eccentric family will appeal to those encountering Ginsberg for the first time as well as those already familiar with her writing. For all public libraries.-Lucille M. Boone, San Jose P.L., CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
A rich celebration of life with three sisters. In this clear-eyed but always loving description of her family, memoirist Ginsberg (Raising Blaze, 2002, etc.) explores the differing ways her siblings relate to each other, ways familiar to all who have sisters. Ginsberg lives in southern California, where she shares a home with her teenage son Blaze and her younger sister Maya. Her parents live close by, as do her two other sisters, Deja and Lavander, and only brother Bo. Ginsberg is the eldest, Deja the youngest, none is married, and Ginsberg is the only parent. The family gets together regularly for dinner and holidays, which are always lively, often contentious, but never nasty. Like an enlarged contingent of musketeers, they’re there for one another-helping Ginsberg with babysitting, comforting their mother when her only sister dies, and loyally attending Deja’s plays. They’re also there to offer advice and sympathy when their various relationships with men don’t work out. In separate chapters, the author describes her relationship with each sister as well as with Bo. She explores their varying interactions and recalls the family’s past. Their free-spirited parents met in London in the early 1960s: her mother was from South Africa, her father from Brooklyn, and for many years the family moved often, from London to Brooklyn to South Africa to upstate New York and finally southern California. That kind of family experience unsurprisingly fostered tight-knit bonds. Ginsberg is closest to Maya and finds it most difficult to relate to Lavander, who pushes Ginsberg’s buttons more effectively than anyone else in the family. Lavander is also the only sister not in the entertainmentbusiness-she’s a realtor, while Ginsberg writes, Maya is a musician, and Debra an actor. Ginsberg particularly appreciates her sisters’ roles as exceptional aunties to developmentally challenged son Blaze. Loving and candid, as the best family stories are.
Debra Ginsberg, author of Waiting and Raising Blaze, successfully and marvelously conveys what it means to be a sister in her latest memoir, About My Sisters. The very title was appealing to me, as I am the youngest of five sisters. I thought I could relate. And I did. It caused me to step back and look at the relationship I have with my own sisters, and made me realize the importance of family and spending time with those you love. It is because of this that I couldn't put the book down.
Tracking the course of a year in the lives of her three sisters, who only live ten minutes apart, Ginsberg eloquently follows their relationships with each other, Ginsberg's son, parents and one brother. Through birthday parties, family gatherings, changes in careers and dilemmas with boyfriends and each other, Ginsberg brilliantly expresses the union they share as sisters and friends.
Being the oldest sister, Ginsberg begins by telling of her relationship with her younger sister, Maya, moving from country to country and state to state with their nomadic parents. Because of this, a bond was formed between them that is described by Ginsberg so well: "I never even put 'sister' before her name when I talk about her. She is the part of me who is Maya." She then discusses the birth of each sibling after and how the family dynamic adjusted as their birth order was changed. Each sister has a special role in the family and shares a unique bond with one another that is not like any other connection possible --- whether with a parent or friend.
Immediately pulling readers into the story, Ginsberg's memoir reads more like a novel. Her ability to bring you into her family, as if you are a silent viewer on the sidelines of her life, is exceptional. She shows that sisters can argue, disagree, have different personalities and not tell each other everything, but still have the comfort and assurance that they will always be there to support each other no matter what, because they are sisters.
As Ginsberg states, "Together we illuminate each other. When we reflect off each other, whatever light we possess individually is made that much brighter ... It is the brilliance and power of sisters."
--- Reviewed by Karen Campbell
Washington Post Book World
Debra Ginsberg infuses the energy from her special relationship with her son into her memoir, Raising Blaze. She not only reveals what it means to be the mother of an exceptional child, but also shares a tale in which all mothers can see themselves. The story begins with a torrid, albeit brief, affair resulting in Ginsberg's pregnancy. When she refused to have an abortion, the father refused to have anything to do with her. But her family's efforts and her own determination helped her through the first 13 years of her son's life -- the period covered in this book, which ends with Blaze on home/hospital leave from seventh grade. A "blue" baby, born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, Blaze had some difficulties at first but soon began to thrive, although he was somewhat different. He talked later than usual, lacked the small motor control necessary to draw, and was acutely sensitive to noise. He also seemed to be musically gifted. Those differences were exacerbated when Blaze went to school where, with few exceptions, the teachers, administrators adn counselors were overworked and inept. They didn't try to teach Blaze so much as force him into their predesigned mold. When he rebelled, Ginsberg defended him valiantly and eloquently. With this book part of that defense, she writes, "My hope for Raising Blaze was that others would find themselves in this perspective and in our story." To her credit, they will.
The New Yorker
A specific diagnosis of a disability may provide a welcome explanation for puzzling behavior, and even offer relief through medication or therapy. But as Debra Ginsberg explains in Raising Blaze, her memoir of bringing up her own "extraordinary" child, a diagnosis can sometimes create more questions than answers. Blaze, who was choked by his own umbilical cord during delivery, expresses himself with enigmatic figurative phrases; loud noises send him screaming around the room. The doctors' assessment was vague to the point of tautology: "pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified." Ginsberg struggles with the public-school system and its rigorous notions of acceptable behavior, where even happiness is monitored: "I am struck again by how difficult it is to navigate a world where we have to be mindful of when laughter is appropriate."
Ginsberg (author of Waiting, an insider’s look at the world of restaurant service) offers an extraordinary view of rearing and educating a child with special needs. Upon entering school, Ginsberg’s son, Blaze, was put in a special education class because he didn’t fit in smoothly with the behavioral demands of the regular classroom teacher. Required to come up with a specific diagnosis in order to place him in special ed, the school officials chose ‘speech and language impaired’ after Blaze’s first day of kindergarten. Resistant to testing, Blaze defied simple categorization and over time collected a variety of contradictory labels, including autistic, ‘of above-average intelligence,’ ‘eccentric,’ attention deficit hyperactive and ‘a gifted manipulator.’
A single parent with a large supportive family, Ginsberg spent much time and energy working with Blaze, having him tested, reading about diagnoses and treatments and helping him through elementary school with teachers ranging from helpful to hostile. She sacrificed her nascent career in publishing to spend more time with Blaze, took a job at his school, temporarily home-schooled him and even ingested a dose of his Ritalin to see how it felt.
Ginsberg skillfully describes all the frustration, anger, fear, shame, worry, love and joy she’s experienced in addressing her son’s unique gifts and difficulties. She also describes a public school system generally more concerned with collective standardized test scores than with recognizing and serving the various innate abilities, talents and needs of its diverse students. This is an unusual and fascinating memoir that refutes many common assumptions about single mothers, special-ed kids, ‘experts’ of all kinds and American public schools. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Memoirist Ginsberg, who waited tables for 20 years to support her writing habit (Waiting, 2000), movingly details her experiences with a “different” child. Ginsberg’s memoir is refreshingly free of “Why me?” whines; her devotion to her son is exemplary, her criticisms of unhelpful doctors and educators fair. She begins with Blaze’s difficult birth in 1987, when she was 24. A single mother who had recently broken up with the baby’s father, Ginsberg had a long labor, and Blaze was born with his umbilical cord wound around his neck, scoring low on post-birth tests. At home, she began rearing him with the help of her supportive family (her father accompanied her to most appointments). Like most mothers, Ginsberg loved her baby from the first moment and was determined to do the best for a boy who seemed bright and intelligent. When she enrolled Blaze in kindergarten, she expected him to be “a star in his class.” Instead, she was asked to meet with his teachers and the school psychologists, who told her Blaze should be transferred to the Special Education program. From then on, her life became an endless round of arguments with teachers and doctors who never made an exact diagnosis. Blaze hated loud noises (fire engines, garbage trucks, etc.) and found it hard to sit still, but he was sensitive to feelings and had a remarkable knowledge of music. Some suggested he was autistic, and most wanted her to put him on medication; she eventually tried Ritalin, stopping when he reacted badly to it. As the author chronicles her struggle to raise Blaze right, she celebrates the heroes (her family, some teachers) and nails the villains (obtuse, even cruel doctors and educators). Though Blaze’s difficultbirth affected him in ways that cannot be specifically diagnosed, Ginsberg has learned that raising a child is an act of faith. A stirring record of a mother’s battle fought with zest, humor, and love.
Learning disabilities, autism, perseveration, inappropriate behavior, ADHD, resistance, and Asperger’s Syndrome are a few of the terms bandied about in the meetings Ginsberg has with her son’s teachers, beginning with the first day of kindergarten through sixth grade, where her book ends. Blaze, born to a single mother, was oxygen-deprived at birth. Cared for by his mother and her close-knit family, the fact that his development followed no norms was viewed as a charming quirk until he reached the classroom. A more apt title might be ‘Schooling Blaze,’ since that’s where most of the conflict lies. His mother finally realizes that her son does have problems, but securing a diagnosis and appropriate educational support proves nearly impossible. Each school year brings new sets of problems, and success in one grade does not translate to a smooth beginning for the next.
This is the poignant and compelling story of raising a child with an undefinable disability centering on emotional/behavioral issues. A devoted mother and ardent advocate for her son’s educational rights, Ginsberg (Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress) lets the words pour onto the page yet manages to keep the story of her son’s battles accessible and engaging. The reader can, at times, become incredibly frustrated with both the ineffective mandates of the school and Ginsberg’s own stubbornness. Her unwillingness to heed the diagnosis of doctors or the suggestions of educators can appear detrimental to all parties, but the reader comes to understand that as Blaze’s mother, it is her job to question authority. In the end, this mother and son’s tale not only reveals the beauty and strength in struggle but also acts as a supportive text for parents and guardians of disabled children. Among the qualities we all share as humans ‘are our differences and thus our sameness,’ writes Ginsberg, and she hopes people use that tenet to establish a common ground; this book is the foundation for a new understanding. Highly recommended for all libraries. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
“Ginsberg’s book successfully weaves examples from her 20 years as a waitress with explorations of the sociopolitical implications of the American class structure. It ought to be required reading for anyone who ever plans to dine out again. . . . Her triumph, in this book, is that she shows us how the beautiful and the base coexist. That tension is what makes the job, and the book, so compelling.”—Oregonian
“A lively and insightful look into restaurants. . . . Ginsberg is such a charming and talented writer.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Ginsberg writes positively but not Pollyannaishly and has told an attractive story about coping with a life that has been different than what she expected.”—New York Times Book Review
“As this account shows, there’s a lot of life in the waiting game.”—Business Week
“This book is more than a saga about workplace woes. The better story is the one in which Ginsberg relives her personal struggle, waiting for her life to happen.”—Associated Press
“Ginsberg not only shares delicious stories . . . but also dishes out advice that will make you laugh.”—USA Weekend
“Ginsberg got her education in restaurants, and she doles it out just right in this entertaining account.”—People
“Funny and ultimately satisfying.”—Entertainment Weekly
”[Ginsberg] turns a sociologist’s eye on the class system of food service, takes an anthropologist’s view of the work force and offers a sexologist’s appraisal of the correlation between food and sex.”—Daily News
”[Ginsberg] tells the story with enough honesty and wry humor to connect with other people-especially women-who,ve made their living dealing with the infamous public.”—Detroit Free Press
”[A] wonderful book. It was worth waiting for.”—New Orleans Times-Picayune
“A knowing memoir. . . . [Ginsberg] is great on dining-room debacles she’s endured.”—Seattle Times
“Hilarious . . . colorful.”—Hartford Courant
“A lively, often funny tale.”—Newsday
“Conveys the unpredictability and humanity of this humble but essential work. … Ginsberg’s more personal segments … portray an intelligent single mom, fiercely committed to her son, with worries about her potential as a writer and her future … concluding that … there is beauty and simplicity in the small acts of her work.”—Publishers Weekly
”[Ginsberg] presents … the sounds, the smells, the panic, the steamy drama of a busy kitchen.”—Kirkus Reviews
“This book may inspire bored office workers to get out from behind their desks and step up to the tables… . The appealing style never wavers… . Those unfamiliar with restaurant jobs are in for an eye-opening treat.”—Booklist