Belle, Jennifer 1968–
Belle, Jennifer 1968–
Writer. Previously Mudfish, New York, NY, editor; Corcoran Group, New York, NY, real estate salesperson. Performed as an Off-Broadway actress.
Going Down was named "Best Summer Novel" by Time Out New York.
Going Down (novel), Riverhead (New York, NY), 1996.
High Maintenance (novel), Riverhead (New York, NY), 2001.
Animal Stackers (juvenile), illustrated by David McPhail, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2005.
Little Stalker (novel), Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 2007.
Going Down has been optioned for film by Muse Prods.
Jennifer Belle grew up in New York City, the daughter of a professor and her writer mother, Jill Hoffman. As a teen, Belle was drawn to life outside of the classroom. She would board the train in the morning but pass her stop, rather than go to school, and ride to the end of the line and back again. Rich Cohen, who interviewed Belle for New York, stated: "One time, she collected some vagrants from Washington Square and brought them home, where they sat around eating cereal, reading the back of the box." Belle lied about her age to get a job in a Bleecker Street bar, and when the late hours made it difficult to get up for school, she quit. Cohen wrote, "While her contemporaries were dozing in classrooms, she was dropping out of high school, steering clear of college, chasing down everything that caught her eye." She later earned a GED and took classes at both New York University and City College. Belle has worked off-Off Broadway, in the role of the troll in Sleeping Beauty and the thief in The Balcony. She worked at the La MaMa theater, playing the young Penny Arcade in the performance artist's show. Belle began writing when her mother formed a writers' workshop in her apartment. Her intimate knowledge of New York City and its people are reflected in her successful first novel, Going Down, which was optioned by Madonna for a film.
Cohen called Going Down "a fish-out-of-water story—a nineteen-year-old girl's descent from middle-class life to the 1,000-dollars-a-night world of high-class prostitution, a transition she prepared for as a kid." As a child, the protagonist, Bennington Bloom, made her Barbie townhouse into a brothel, where the Barbies "mostly changed clothes and had sex, once even in the elevator, but then one left and became a stewardess." There are similarities in the lives of Belle and her heroine. Bennington is also the daughter of divorced parents, her father a professor with a Greenwich Village apartment and a country house. Bennington becomes a call girl to pay for her acting classes at New York University. Cohen commented that Belle's writing "has the rough, be-there-in-a-minute feel of something real; the voice hasn't been polished away."
Bennington answers an ad in the Village Voice placed by Holly, a madam, and B.J., her husband. When Holly blames Bennington for having a tryst with B.J., Bennington leaves them to work in brothels. "Bennington describes the gathering of prostitutes at Blanche's whorehouse as a ‘tea party,’" wrote a Times Literary Supplement contributor. "It was one of several references in the novel to Lewis Carroll, from whom Belle takes her epigraph: ‘In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.’" The reviewer observed that Going Down contains the "dreamlike surrealism of Alice's adventures," and called the book "disarmingly innocent and touching."
Time contributor Ginia Bellafante called Belle "an exceptionally funny writer" and described Bennington as "not so much a hooker with a heart of gold as … a hooker with nerves of crème brulée. She is comically neurotic—her heels and condoms are always spilling out of her book bag." Bennington's long hours and conflicting emotions about her work begin to affect her physical and mental health, but she doesn't stop. She likes the money. Dwight Garner, in reviewing Going Down for the Salon.com Web site, called it "a punk-picaresque first novel," and wrote that it "has a bright engaged, bracing tone that keeps you turning the pages." Garner also commented that the book "closes as its narrator is struggling toward a kind of escape, emotional if no other kind. At the same time, you feel Belle's narrative gifts working their way toward the surface, too." Booklist contributor June Vigor called the dialogue "priceless, particularly in the scenes of working girls killing time between tricks."
In Belle's second novel, High Maintenance, twenty-six-year-old Liv Kellerman has just been divorced. Upset that she has to move out of her uptown New York apartment and with no discernable skills, Liv hits the streets to find a job and a new living situation. She eventually finds a seedy one-bedroom apartment in Greenwich Village. Determined to upgrade her living situation, Liv enrolls in real estate school and becomes a broker—a surprisingly good one—showing apartments to wealthy and picky New York clients. A reviewer in Publishers Weekly called the book "fresh and invigorating." Booklist contributor Joanne Wilkinson wrote: "Liv isn't the poster girl for strong, independent women, but her story is quite entertaining."
Belle produced her first children's book in 2005. Animal Stackers is an alphabet book illustrated by David McPhail. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that "the letters in the names of animals and other critters stack up to be clever acrostics." Each animal and situation is described in verse in a common acrostic pattern, featuring the letters in each word (in this case, the name of the animals from "Ant" to "Zebra") arranged vertically and beginning each line of the poem. Jennifer Mattson wrote in Booklist that the "book is impressively conscious of its audience, integrating a universally appealing topic, an abecedarian structure, and an elegant, easy-to-grasp poetry form that most children will already know." The Publishers Weekly contributor noted that the author "captures a singular personality and a gentle humor" in her poems.
Writing in the New York Daily News, Sherryl Connelly called Little Stalker a "light-hearted romp through New York" adding: "That it comes with a skewering as well makes it just that much more fun." The author's third novel features Rebekah Kettle, who, like the author, is a thirtysomething New York novelist going through another breakup with another boyfriend. Rebekah idolizes director Arthur Weeman, who is based on the real-life director Woody Allen. Procrastinating on her second novel and using the request by her physician father to help in his office as an excuse, Rebekah discovers one day that she can see Weeman in his apartment when she takes a patient of her father home. She begins to write to Weeman posing as a schoolgirl, and Weeman eventually is inspired to make a film about their relationship. "I really don't know how I came up with the idea," Belle told Gabrielle Danchick in an interview on the PaperMag.com Web site. "I set out to write my most autobiographical novel and ended up with my least. I'd never written a fan letter or even been tempted, so a novel about a girl who writes fan letters is a surprise. I'm not a stalker—a snoop or spy or thief, maybe, but not stalker." In the book, however, most of the characters are stalking others in one way or another.
Little Stalker received praise from several critics. Writing in the Library Journal, Karen Core commented called Little Stalker a "humorous and intelligent novel, graced by a quirky and insightful protagonist." A Kirkus Reviews contributor referred to the novel as a "darkly comic journey touching on love, art and the nature of obsession."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklinks, May, 2006, Dean Schneider, review of Animal Stackers, p. 21.
Booklist, July, 1996, June Vigor, review of Going Down, p. 1800; May 1, 2001, Carolyn Kubisz, review of High Maintenance, p. 1664; June 1, 2001, Joanne Wilkinson, review of High Maintenance, p. 1836; April 1, 2005, Jennifer Mattson, review of Animal Stackers, p. 1361; April 1, 2007, Allison Block, review of Little Stalker, p. 23.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 2005, Timnah Card, review of Animal Stackers, p. 327.
Daily Variety, May 19, 2004, Cathy Dunkley, "Figgis Inspired by Muse," p. 1.
Entertainment Weekly, October 3, 1997, Alexandra Jacobs and Matthew Flamm, "Going, Going, Gone. (Madonna Unsure on Accepting Option on Film Version of Going Down)," p. 75; May 25, 2001, Lisa Levy, review of High Maintenance, p. 74; July 19, 2002, review of High Maintenance, p. 67.
Hartford Courant, May 27, 2007, "A Sweet Story about a Writer and Her Obsession."
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2005, review of Animal Stackers, p. 348; March 1, 2007, review of Little Stalker, p. 184.
Library Journal, April 15, 2001, Kathy Ingels Helmond, review of High Maintenance, p. 130; April 1, 2007, Karen Core, review of Little Stalker, p. 78.
Library Media Connection, August-September, 2005, Melinda Miller-Widrick, review of Animal Stackers, p. 91.
New York, July 8, 1996, Rich Cohen, "Funny Girl," profile of author, p. 30.
New York Daily News, May 20, 2007, Sherryl Connelly, "Suggest a Story," review of Little Stalker.
New York Times, May 13, 2001, Linda Lee, "A Night Out With: Jennifer Belle; On Familiar Turf"; September 8, 2002, Elaine Louie, "Wedding/Celebrations: Vows; Jennifer Belle and Andrew Krents."
People, October 14, 1996, "Madonna Bought the Book," p. 85.
Publishers Weekly, May 13, 1996, review of Going Down, p. 71; April 30, 2001, review of High Maintenance, p. 52; April 25, 2005, review of Animal Stackers, p. 56; April 30, 2007, review of Little Stalker, p. 141; June 30, 2007, Dick Donahue, "Three Answers: Jennifer Belle," interview with author.
Redbook, August, 2001, Lisa Pilnik, review of High Maintenance, p. 2.
Saint Paul Pioneer Press, July 12, 2007, "Look Who's Stalking."
School Library Journal, April, 2005, Christine E. Carr, review of Animal Stackers, p. 118; October, 2005, review of Animal Stackers, p. 37.
Time, July 22, 1996, Ginia Bellafante, review of Going Down, p. 98.
Times Literary Supplement, June 20, 1997, review of Going Down, p. 24.
US Weekly, June 4, 2001, Susan Towers, review of High Maintenance, p. 66.
BookReporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (January 3, 2008), brief biography of author.
Jennifer Belle Home Page,http://www.jenniferbelle.com (January 3, 2008).
PaperMag.com,http://www.papermag.com/ (January 3, 2008), Gabrielle Danchick, "Belle of the Ball," interview with author.
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (April 15, 1997), Dwight Garner, review of Going Down.