Dann, Patty 1953-
DANN, Patty 1953-
CAREER: Summer Olympics, Los Angeles, CA, participant, 1984; West Side Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), New York, NY, teacher, 1988—; Columbia University, New York, NY, thesis advisor to M.F.A. writing program. Also worked as manager of documentary programs, A&E Television Network.
Mermaids (novel), Ticknor & Fields, 1986.
The Baby Boat: A Memoir of Adoption, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1998.
Sweet & Crazy, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to periodicals, including New York Times, Chicago Tribune, More, Writer, and Redbook.
Mermaids has been translated into six languages.
ADAPTATIONS: Mermaids was adapted for film by Orion Pictures, 1990.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A novel.
SIDELIGHTS: Patty Dann's novel Mermaids, published in 1986, was a first effort that scored a great success with reviewers and the public; it was eventually translated into six languages and was made into a 1990 hit movie by Orion Pictures that starred Cher, Bob Hoskins, and Winona Ryder. The novel's story is told from the perspective of its fourteen-year-old protagonist, Charlotte Flax, who has had eighteen different homes in her young life. Her mother, whom she refers to as "Mrs. Flax," has as much trouble settling on a town in which to live as she does a man to love; she is constantly on the move looking for both. Significantly, the only dishes Mrs. Flax is able to cook are hors d'oeuvres. The family, which includes Charlotte's younger sister Kate, is currently "settled" in Grove, Massachusetts, and the maturing girls are focused on some very specific goals: for Charlotte, joining a nunnery—one is located next door—for Kate, becoming the Olympic swimmer her father was not able to be, and for both girls, staying in Grove long enough for their father to find them.
The novel is full of endearingly quirky characterizations: Charlotte longs for the chaste life—the opposite of her mother's—despite the fact that she is Jewish and that she cannot help falling in love with, among others, the convent's young caretaker; Kate spends long hours training in the local pool and at home is most comfortable in the bathtub. Their mother tries out new recipes, but only for appetizers; and the stream of men through her bedroom door is fairly constant. But as Mary-Ann Tirone Smith wrote in her New York Times review, "All three members of the family are completely tolerant of one another's oddball behavior." Reviewers were taken with Charlotte and what a Publishers Weekly critic called the "charm and freshness" of Dann's writing. The same reviewer called Kate and Charlotte "sharply etched and recognizable" characters who exerted "strong demands on the reader's affection." Elke Liebs, writing in the UNESCO Courier, found some aspects of the novel unlikely: the fact that Mrs. Flax "takes a malicious delight in stealing her daughter's first love" and that "she does not even want to come into the house with the father whom her children long to see on his only visit." Liebs felt that the book shows "a distorted picture of emancipation, psychological neglect and sarcasm which prevents us from experiencing clear feelings." But Tirone Smith found the character of Charlotte to be "a magnificent voice . . . compelling and tender, touching and alive," and deemed the overall work "a radiant debut."
In 1998 Dann published The Baby Boat: A Memoir of Adoption, a book about the experience she and her husband had in adopting a Lithuanian child. Dann writes that the national bird of Lithuania is the stork, a hard irony considering the horrific bureaucracy that impedes the adoption process to the point that only a determined few adoptive parents can persevere. First, an infant girl the couple had hoped to adopt dies before they can meet her. Then, after numerous administrative foul-ups, the year-old boy they next choose to adopt becomes ill and is sent to a poorly staffed and ill-equipped hospital. The couple continue to pursue the adoption, including going to great lengths to secure hard-to-find items such as medicine and diapers for the child. Finally, Dann's husband, Willem, is able to convince a Lithuanian judge to let them adopt the boy with the statement, "I fell in love with my wife in one day as well."
Describing her 2003 novel, Dann told CA: "My book Sweet & Crazy is a poignant and bittersweet novel of a single mother coping with the extremes of life. Set in Ash Creek, Ohio, Hanna Painter and her son have just begun to patch together their lives, when the World Trade Center is attacked. Hanna struggles with the challenges of raising a son alone, romance, and racism as their once peaceful town faces a new century."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dann, Patty, The Baby Boat: Memoir of an Adoption, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1998.
Booklist, September 1, 2003, Deborah Donovan, review of Sweet & Crazy, p. 53.
New York Times, October 12, 1986, Mary-Ann Tirone Smith, review of Mermaids, p. 50.
Publishers Weekly, September 29, 1986, review of Mermaids; September 8, 2003, review of Sweet & Crazy, p. 250.
UNESCO Courier, July-August 1997, Elke Liebs, review of Mermaids, pp. 16-19.
Readerville Web site,http://www.readerville.com/ (February 27, 2005).