Married Ron Spillman; children: two. Education: New York University, M.F.A. (creative writing).
Home—Brooklyn, NY. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Morrow/HarperCollins, East 53rd St., 7th Floor, New York, NY 10022.
Writer and editor.
Best Book of the Year, Los Angeles Times, 2000, for Use Me.
Use Me (fiction), Morrow (New York, NY), 2000.
Vanity Fair, New York, NY, contributing editor; Tin House, founding coeditor; contributor to numerous magazines, including GQ, Vogue, Bomb, Bookforum, and Spin.
WORK IN PROGRESS:
A second novel.
A longtime editor and freelance magazine writer, Elissa Schappell collected ten interrelated stories in her first book, Use Me. The book focuses primarily on Evie Wakefield, a woman who defines herself by her need for a man's love. The book traces her life from the time she is a young woman on through her thirties, when she marries and becomes a mother. Evie's relationship with the opposite sex and especially her father, who is waging a losing battle against cancer, are the pivotal themes that thematically drive the stories. "The narrative presents a world in which all love has its sexual element, and in which the relationship between a father and daughter can define the daughter's entire life," wrote a reviewer in Publishers Weekly.
The book also features Evie's college friend Mary Beth McEvoy, who, unlike Evie, has a tenuous and unfulfilling relationship with her parents. In many ways, Mary Beth acts as a counterpoint to Evie. For example, whereas a teenager Evie is depicted as somewhat innocent, the wild and sophisticated Mary Beth had three abortions before she was eighteen years old. Furthermore, her uncaring mother taught her how to purge after eating so that she can maintain a slim figure. Nevertheless, just like Evie, Mary Beth also needs a man's love to fill the emptiness she feels inside.
Some reviewers commented that Schappell provides a stereotypical and traditional view of women. Writing in Washington Post Book World, Carolyn See said, "Use Me is utterly traditional; it goes back 50 years, straight to Salinger's Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut, where loveless women have nothing to do but get roaring drunk on a dark suburban afternoon. What else could they possibly do?" Nevertheless, See noted that the stories are "beautifully written." Several other reviewers also praised Schappell's writing. Commenting on the story "Try an Outline," Library Journal contributor Nancy Pearl noted that "the writing is evocative and the narrative voice rings true." Emily Eakin, writing in Us, said that Schappell "layers Evie's story poetically." In the New York Times Book Review, Cathleen Schine noted, "Schappell's prose is agile and deft, and her sentences sound like the riffs of a recklessly funny friend." Salon.com contributor Stephanie Zacharek praised Schappell as "artful at integrating the story's multiple layers." Zacharek concluded, "Lively without ever stumbling over its own cleverness, funny without being smart-alecky, Use Me is a story about growing up that's written for grown-ups—the kind who realize that getting there wasn't even half the battle."
Schappell says that some of Evie's story is based on her own life in that she had a loving family and her father died. Nevertheless, she stresses that the book is not autobiographical and warned that, in general, readers can draw more from a novel when they don't concern themselves with a book's possible autobiographical elements. "People like to think things are autobiographical," Schappell said in an interview with Ron Hogan on the Beatrice Web site. "But I also think it stops readers from becoming completely engaged in the work."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March, 2000, Michelle Kaske, review of Use Me, p. 1197.
Library Journal, March 15, 2000, Nancy Pearl, review of Use Me, p. 130.
New York Times Book Review, April 9, 2000, Cathleen Schine, review of Use Me, p. 10.
People, April 24, 2000, David Cobb Craig, review of Use Me, p. 49.
Publishers Weekly, January 24, 2000, review of Use Me, p. 290.
Us, April 10, 2000, Emily Eakin, review of Use Me, p. 48.
Village Voice, March 28, 2000, Kera Bolonik, review of Use Me, p. 62.
Washington Post Book World, February 25, 2000, Carolyn See, review of Use Me, p. C8.
Beatrice,http://www.beatrice.com/ (November 17, 2003), Ron Hogan, interview with Elissa Schappell.