Block, Valerie 1964-
Block, Valerie 1964-
Agent—Gail Hochman, Brandt and Hochman, 1501 Broadway, New York, NY 10036.
Was It Something I Said?, Soho Press (New York, NY), 1998.
None of Your Business, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Don't Make a Scene: A Novel, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2007.
None of Your Business has been optioned for film and television.
Valerie Block is a writer with three novels to her credit. She earned her B.A. at Barnard College before going on to earn her M.F.A. at Columbia University. Her husband, Alexis Romay, is a writer from Cuba, and he has inspired some of Block's characters. Indeed, Cuba largely figures into her third book, Don't Make a Scene: A Novel.
Block's first novel, Was It Something I Said?, was published in 1998, after the author was already in her mid-thirties. However, this late start to her career did not affect the book's critical success. The story, which is a realistic modern-day romance set in the 1990s, features Barry Cantor and Justine Schiff. The two New York Jews meet during a plane crash, and though they survive, the experience gives rise to an odd-couple romance. Barry is a relaxed food marketer and Justine is a high-strung workaholic lawyer. The two are mismatched in every conceivable way, including temperament and political affiliation (he is a liberal and she is a Republican). The novel tracks the first year of their relationship as they strive to stay together through job losses and meeting one another's dysfunctional families.
Block's realistic take on love in Was It Something I Said? was appreciated by reviewers, who applauded the nitty-gritty approach to relationships. For instance, Andrea Caron Kempf, critiquing the novel in Library Journal, stated that the story is "painfully realistic" and added that Block's "fast-paced narrative, perceptive and sympathetic characterizations, and descriptions … all ring true." A Publishers Weekly contributor also commented on the book's realistic tone, remarking that Block "deftly mingles mundane details … with fleeting moments of delirious happiness." Entertainment Weekly contributor Megan Harlan echoed this sentiment as well, observing that "the plot mirrors urban life all too well." Other critics commented on the book's humor. Joanne Wilkinson, reviewing the novel in Booklist, felt that Block portrays "yuppie leads who are far from perfect," offering readers "some very funny scenarios of the single life."
None of Your Business, Block's second novel, was released five years after Was It Something I Said? Like her first novel, Block's second book was well received by critics. The story is not a romance like its predecessor, but is instead a police caper. The narrative centers around Erica King, a presumably plain and boring accountant with a bad hairdo who, as it turns out, is bald, has multiple identities, and has been embezzling money from her accounting firm—all while seducing her boss, Mitch Greiff, and evading the detectives on her trail. The story features a large cast of characters, including Mitch's wife, Patricia, who, after being jilted by her husband, begins seeing one of the detectives on the case.
Critiques of None of Your Business mainly centered on Block's ability to create a large cast of endearing and fully realized characters. Indeed, a Publishers Weekly contributor noted that the large cast makes for a novel that is "occasionally dizzying but always diverting." The contributor further observed that the novel "has a comic streak that's ruthless yet weirdly compassionate, because it's truly character-driven." A Kirkus Reviews critic called None of Your Business "a winner," observing: "Who knew fraud could be this funny?" The contributor also called the book a "wickedly clever farce featuring strange bedfellows, missing millions, and a bald con woman." Critiquing the novel in the Library Journal, Nancy Pearl remarked upon Block's treatment of the characters. Pearl noted that Block tells the story from both the criminals' and the detectives' perspectives, which "allows [Block] to humanize her characters by weaving in many details of their personal lives and histories."
Published four years after None of Your Business, Don't Make a Scene is Block's third and most widely reviewed book. Something of a chick-lit novel, the story's protagonist is Diane Kurasik, an art-house cinema manager who is about to turn forty. Diane is evicted from her rent-controlled apartment, and spends the bulk of the novel trying to find a place to live while staying on friends' couches in the interim. When her theater undergoes renovation, she falls for the architect in charge, Cuban ex-patriot Vladimir Hurtado. Vladimir, however, still has a wife and son in Cuba, although he has not seen them in ten years. The story grows even more complicated when Vladimir's son reappears. Throughout the book, Block draws a parallel between movie trivia and Diane's experiences, a detail that many critics remarked upon, albeit with mixed reactions.
Nevertheless, critics once again commented on Block's intelligent and funny writing style. For instance, Carol Haggas, writing in Booklist, called Don't Make a Scene "tartly clever," further noting that "Block's zesty take on love [and] life … is an especially smart and cunning romp." A Publishers Weekly contributor called the book "an entertaining winner," stating that "film buffs and readers bored with fluffy love stories will welcome the novel's sly substance."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, November 1, 1997, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Was It Something I Said?, p. 452; May 1, 2003, Carrie Bissey, review of None of Your Business, p. 1534; June 1, 2007, Carol Haggas, review of Don't Make a Scene: A Novel, p. 35.
Entertainment Weekly, January 16, 1998, Megan Harlan, review of Was It Something I Said?, p. 64; December 18, 1998, review of Was It Something I Said?, p. 72.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2003, review of None of Your Business, p. 549.
Library Journal, November 15, 1997, Andrea Caron Kempf, review of Was It Something I Said?, p. 75; June 1, 1998, review of Was It Something I Said?, p. 204; May 1, 2003, Nancy Pearl, review of None of Your Business, p. 153.
Publishers Weekly, October 27, 1997, review of Was It Something I Said?, p. 51; June 16, 2003, review of None of Your Business, p. 51; May 7, 2007, review of Don't Make a Scene, p. 41.
Mommy Writer Blog,http://www.bethanyhiitola.com/blog/ (October 1, 2007), author interview.
Valerie Block Home Page,http://www.valerieblock.com (May 20, 2008).