Lerner, Lisa 1960-
LERNER, Lisa 1960-
Born 1960. Education: Cornell University, B.A., 1981.
Writer and performance artist. Previously worked as writing teacher, textbook writer, and editor.
Franklin Furnace Performance Art Award; MacDowell Artist's Colony fellowship.
Snakes Reach You Faster (play), produced in New York, NY, 1990.
Just like Beauty, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor of nonfiction, short fiction, and essays to journals, including Bust and Self.
WORK IN PROGRESS:
A novel that follows young characters living in the future as they struggle with issues of violence, cults, and environmental deterioration.
Lisa Lerner spent years as a New York City performance artist working under the name Cowboy Girl, and it was during this period that she came up with the idea that eventually became her debut novel, Just like Beauty. The concept began as an idea for a one-woman show. One year later, Lerner realized the story worked better in novel form, and she started writing. After five years of writing and rewriting, her manuscript was accepted by a publisher in 2000.
Just like Beauty took five years to write because the first draft met its demise in the fireplace. "I finished the book, and I hated it. I was absolutely bored by it," Lerner told Jessica Yerega in Writer's Digest. After tossing it on the flames, she acknowledged the need to tell her story, and accepted the fact that she would have to begin from scratch. She buckled down, disciplined herself, and started to enjoy writing.
The result of those seasons of dedicated writing is the futuristic, dark coming-of-age story of fourteen-year-old Edie Stein, a girl determined to make her mother happy by participating in the town's local beauty pageant. The Feminine Woman of Conscience event is no ordinary pageant, however, and Edie and her fellow participants face seemingly insurmountable obstacles, including events in which they must sacrifice their pet rabbits, simulate sex with the Electric Polyrubber Man, and display their knowledge of chemical substances. The list of ridiculous expectations never ends, and neither do the challenges Edie must face.
Despite years of tutelage and pageantry preparation at the hands of her pill-popping mother, Edie remains ambivalent about the contest; she is more concerned with the usual woes of adolescence and puberty, which include a first crush on next-door neighbor Lana Grimaldi. Rebellious Lana is everything Edie is not, and Edie dreams of the next time she will kiss Lana's cigar-wielding lips. Aside from her budding lesbianism, Edie struggles to contend with her estranged parents as well as with manacing thugs known as the Blow Torchers. This brutal gang thrives on torturing and disfiguring pageant contestants, and their efforts rarely fail.
Just like Beauty is a satiric social commentary on the values and priorities of materialistic culture. Specifically, Lerner uses the novel to analyze and criticize society's expectations of its female citizens. The older Edie grows, the more twisted and tangled her life becomes. Womanhood seems like a goal to be reached, and the journey is rife with humiliation and submission, degradation and seduction.
Deansville, Edie's fictional hometown, is Lerner's warning to her readers. In Deansville, people eat "Just Like" foods—Just like Meat, Just like Bread—foods produced by the Just like That food and chemicals conglomerate. This company has a monopoly on the town; it even sponsors the Feminine Woman of Conscience Pageant. Deansville is also home to giant mutant grasshoppers the size of crows that thrive on the poison set out for them on neighborhood lawns.
Edie Stein is Lerner's Everywoman, and critics have noted that Lerner successfully mixes science fiction with the bildungsroman to give readers a heroine with the strength and courage to embrace her individuality against all odds. According to Emily White in the New York Times, "In a lesser writer's hands, such an exaggerated view of womanhood might have seemed silly or unbelievable. But Lerner has the gifts to make it all work."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, December 1, 2001, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Just like Beauty, p. 628.
Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Australia), January 26, 2002, Emily White, review of Just like Beauty, p. M06.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2001, review of Just like Beauty, p. 1386.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, February 6, 2002, Evelyn Mcdonnell, review of Just like Beauty, p. K1863.
Lambda Book Report, October 1, 2001, Eleanor J. Bader, review of Just like Beauty, p. 141.
Library Journal, June-July 2002, Christopher Hennessy, review of Just like Beauty, p. 20.
New York Times, January 6, 2002, Emily White, review of Just like Beauty, p. 22; January 23, 2002, Richard Eder, review of Just Like Beauty, p. E10.
People Weekly, March 18, 2002, Michelle Vellucci, review of Just like Beauty, p. 43.
Publishers Weekly, December 3, 2001, review of Just like Beauty, pp. 40-41.
Writer's Digest, January, 2002, Jessica Yerega, "First Success: Lisa Lerner's Just like Beauty. "
Bookpeople,http://www.bookpeople.net/ (January 13, 2002), Mary Abshire, review of Just like Beauty.
Cornell Alumni Magazine,http://www.cornellmagazine.cornell.edu/ (January-February, 2002), review of Just like Beauty. *