Juska, Elise 1973-
Juska, Elise 1973-
Born 1973. Education: Bowdoin College, B.A.; University of New Hampshire, M.F.A, 1996.
Home—Southwest Harbor, ME. Agent—Whitney Lee, Fielding Agency, 269 S. Beverly Dr., Ste. 341, Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
Novelist. University of the Arts, Philadelphia, PA, former senior lecturer in writing. Wilma Theater, Philadelphia, New School. New York, NY, former fiction writing instructor; grant writer. Fiction instructor at numerous writing conferences.
Hawthorne and Sinkinson Prizes for her short stories, Bowdoin College; Charait Award for best short story, and Tom Williams Memorial award, both from University of New Hampshire; Director's Award for Teaching Excellence, University of the Arts, Philadelphia, PA.
Getting over Jack Wagner (novel), Downtown Press (New York, NY), 2003.
The Hazards of Sleeping Alone (novel), Downtown Press (New York, NY), 2004.
One for Sorrow, Two for Joy (novel), Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2007.
Work represented in anthologies, including Cold Feet: Original Stories, Downtown Press (New York, NY), 2005. Contributor of short fiction to periodicals, including Black Warrior Review, Harvard Review, Hudson Review, Salmagundi, Room of One's Own, Calyx, Good Housekeeping, Berkeley Fiction Review, Philadelphia Stories, and Seattle Review.
Elise Juska moved from short stories to the novel form and found success with Getting Over Jack Wagner, a novel that Philadelphia City Paper Online Web site reviewer Kevin Plunkett dubbed "vogueishly conversational, lathered with pop culture and unabashedly marketable." The title of Getting Over Jack Wagner refers to an actor and musician of the 1980s. As Susan Scribner noted in her Romance Reader Web site review, readers who "remember Jack Wagner, the handsome 80's teen idol who crooned ‘All I Need’ and broke hearts as Frisco on General Hospital will immediately identify" with Juska's twenty-six-year-old heroine, Eliza Simon. A copywriter for a travel agency who had to cope with her father's abandonment when she was a young girl, Eliza has the unusual hobby of dating rock-star wannabes: twenty-something, disheveled, unshaven young men with tragic outlooks, an electric guitar or drums, and a dream. The only problem is that many of her romantic conquests also have imperfections that take the form of endless whining and a frustrating dependence on their mothers. Searching for that perfect specimen—the man most like her idolized Wagner—Eliza is ultimately shaken when she begins to realize that her dating habits have become an obsessive search for something that does not exist—and someone who would not make her feel fulfilled.
Critical reception to Getting over Jack Wagner was mixed, perhaps because the novel was quickly categorized in the burgeoning "chick lit" genre formed in the wake of Helen Fielding's popular Bridget Jones' Diary. While praising the book as a "breezy read," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reviewer Sharon Eberson added that Getting over Jack Wagner "is not always a romp. Eliza can lean toward the pathetic and, despite a few red herrings, no easy answers await her." Heidi L. Haglin enjoyed Juska's technique of juxtaposing the present day with Eliza's past in alternating chapters, and noted on the Allabout Romance Web site, that the author's quirky mix of past and present, and the inclusion of pop-music play-lists to reflect the heroine's state of mind "permeates the book, brilliantly offsetting the more serious and difficult themes of self-understanding and adjustment." Sensing a degree of depth in the novel, Scribner maintained on the Romance Reader Web site that Getting over Jack Wagner serves as "a welcome change of pace from cookie-cutter Chick Lit" and added that Juska's "hopeful ending has nothing to do with romance and everything to do with its heroine reaching a pivotal moment in her life." Dubbing Juska a "smart, funny newcomer," a Kirkus Reviews contributor added that "clever structure, swift pacing, emotional insight, and an ultimately charming voice" work together to make the novel "a standout."
While praising Juska's debut novel, Plunkett noted that Getting Over Jack Wagner is "a clear departure from the pensive, literate short stories" the novelist has contributed to the Harvard Review, Hudson Review, and Seattle Review. As Juska explained to Plunkett, her first novel has its roots in a short story she wrote while a creative writing student at the University of New Hampshire. Years later, while dealing with some difficult issues in her own life, she realized that writing something would be good therapy. "I knew writing was hard. I knew I wanted to laugh. And while I found writing funny fiction no easier than writing unfunny fiction, at least I was able to crack myself up along the way."
Juska's next novel, The Hazards of Sleeping Alone, is also about obsession, at least in the beginning. The central character, Charlotte, has devoted her life and all her energy to raising her daughter as a single mother, to the exclusion of most other activities. Her daughter eventually outgrows the need for mothering, and Charlotte takes refuge in the seclusion of her condominium, trapped by self-imposed routines, obsessive behavior patterns, and unfounded anxieties until … her daughter returns and moves back in. Charlotte's seclusion is pierced by multiple intrusions from the outside world, and gradually she becomes motivated to welcome the change. "Anyone who has awakened in the night alone and afraid will rejoice," reported Jennifer Baker in her Booklist review of The Hazards of Sleeping Alone. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the work "a powerful success in spite of its tendency to melodrama … mother-daughter fiction of the best flawed sort where, in the midst of cliche, a genuinely admirable amount of truth shines forth."
Juska's third novel, One for Sorrow, Two for Joy, is a "lyrical, enchanting narrative," according to Philadelphia Inquirer reviewer Martha Woodall. The story follows the adventures of linguist Claire Gallagher who suddenly leaves her biologist husband and flies to Ireland, there to spend time with her younger sister, Noelle. Once there, she discovers that Noelle and her boyfriend Paul are preparing for their wedding. She is met with Irish charm and blarney and her escape to Ireland ultimately leads her to learn new truths about her parents and about her own expectations in marriage and in her professional life. She has put her own career on hold to further that of her husband's, opting instead to write crossword puzzles for a living. Such word puzzles infuse Juska's "tale of shifting family dynamics," as Jasmine Gartner noted in the New Statesman. A critic for Kirkus Reviews was unimpressed with this third novel, terming it "a disappointing, self-absorbed deconstruction of parent-daughter, husband-wife and sister-sister relationships." However, Woodall had a more positive assessment, praising "Juska's delicate touch and note-perfect writing."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 15, 2004, Jennifer Baker, review of The Hazards of Sleeping Alone, p. 208.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2003, review of Getting over Jack Wagner, p. 258; August 15, 2004, review of The Hazards of Sleeping Alone, p. 766; May 1, 2007, review of One for Sorrow, Two for Joy.
New Statesman, June 4, 2007, Jasmine Gartner, "Filling in the Blanks," p. 59.
People, June 2, 2003, Joyce Cohen, review of Getting over Jack Wagner, p. 41.
Philadelphia Inquirer, September 16, 2007, Martha Woodall, review of One for Sorrow, Two for Joy.
Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), June 15, 2003, Sharon Eberson, review of Getting over Jack Wagner.
All about Romance Web Site,http://www.likesbooks.com/ (October 30, 2003), Heidi L. Haglin, review of Getting over Jack Wagner.
Philadelphia City Paper Online,http://citypaper.net/ (May 22-28, 2003), Kevin Plunkett, "Lighten Up: Elise Juska on Writing Yourself Out of a Funk."
Romance Reader,http://www.theromancereader.com/ (October 30, 2003), Susan Scribner, review of Getting over Jack Wagner.