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Shattuck, Jessica

SHATTUCK, Jessica

PERSONAL:

Female. Education: Graduate of Harvard University; Columbia University, M.F.A.

ADDRESSES:

Agent—c/o Author Mail, W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 500 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10110-0017.

CAREER:

Writer. Taught English at Columbia University and Dartmouth College.

WRITINGS:

The Hazards of Good Breeding, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 2003.

Contributor to periodicals, including New Yorker, Mother Jones, Wired, and Interview.

WORK IN PROGRESS:

A novel.

SIDELIGHTS:

Jessica Shattuck was a frequent contributor to national publications before writing her first novel, The Hazards of Good Breeding. Having grown up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard graduate Shattuck knows whereof she writes. Her story of a blue-blooded East Coast family is a peek into a lifestyle only a select group of people ever gets to see. A Kirkus Reviews critic called the book "a generously portrayed and richly appointed debut."

The family of the novel lives west of Boston in Concord, a town of historic significance and beautiful homes. Jack Dunlap is the stoic patriarch, a ruthless businessman whose hobbies are building Revolutionary War dioramas and raising blue heelers. Jack's wife, Faith, left the family two years earlier to live in New York City and has recently experienced an emotional breakdown. Jack now lives alone with his unhappy ten-year-old son, Eliot, who mourns the loss of his caretaker, Rosita, a woman who was fired six months earlier for reasons that become apparent as the story unfolds.

As The Hazards of Good Breeding begins, Caroline Dunlap returns home after graduating from Harvard, and Faith makes one of her infrequent trips back to Concord to see Eliot perform in the school play Paul Revere's Ride, in a part that ultimately inspires his plan to find Rosita. Meanwhile, Caroline hangs out at the local country club with her pot-smoking friend Rock Coughlin, Jr., who has been laid off from his job at an organic farm. She also becomes involved with Stephan, a documentary filmmaker of questionable character who wants to get inside the heads of her family and friends while making his The Last WASPS, from Puritans to Preppies.

Shattuck takes an ironic view of her characters; for instance, she describes the twenty-something male guests at a country-club wedding as "well-launched into inevitable futures of gradual hair loss, back problems, and knee surgery; of cool, polite marriages to blond girls whose health and athletic prowess has everyone fooled, for a brief window of time, into calling them pretty; of desperate, distraction-seeking love affairs with golf, paddle tennis, squash, and backgammon; of memberships at the Ponkatawset Club and coat-and-tie thirtieth birthday parties; of having the same conversations with the same people in the same mind-numbingly dull places forever."

In a review of The Hazards of Good Breeding for the New York Times Book Review, Jennifer Egan remarked that "this is strong stuff, but Shattuck saves it from lapsing into harangue by poking gentle fun at the source of this jaundiced perspective. Caroline is a pure product of the world she scorns, a fact that is most clear from her loopy, soft-focus plans to escape it." Caroline sees her options as including living in a mud hut in Bali with her friend Miriam or moving to Paris to write about her own little world.

A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that Shattuck "is an observant and graceful writer, and contrives sonic elegant and touching scenes, particularly as Faith begins to recover a sense of her womanhood with a charming French visitor." In her review for the Boston Phoenix Online, Nina Willdorf wrote that the novel "humorously and aptly digs into the world of Beacon Hill socialites, worn-around-the-edges country clubs, soft-around-the-belly aging frat boys, and vintage money. Country-club friends cackle maliciously behind closed doors and coo over-demonstratively at ginfueled public events. Otherwise, silence keeps every mess smoothed over, a 'tense, terrible silence.'"

Egan called Rosita, the Colombian babysitter, "the story's elusive linchpin.… It is with Eliot, rather than Caroline, as one might expect, that the book's emotional center lies, and the dream logic behind his escapade becomes a strangely apt device for revealing its thematic topography.… Rosita turns out to be more deeply bound to Eliot's world than he could have imagined, and it is around this mysterious connection that Shattuck's disparate plotlines ultimately converge." Egan called the novel's final section, in which Rosita tells her story, as Shattuck's "boldest move," emphasizing that it is what "elevates" the book "from a witty and promising first novel to a disturbing indictment of a superannuated subculture."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, November 15, 2002, Kristine Huntley, review of The Hazards of Good Breeding, p. 578.

Boston Sunday Globe, March 16, 2003, Mameve Medwed, review of The Hazards of Good Breeding, section D, p. 8.

Chicago Tribune, February 16, 2003, Dan Santow, review of The Hazards of Good Breeding, section 14, p. 6.

Entertainment Weekly, February 14, 2003, review of The Hazards of Good Breeding, pp. 76-77.

Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2002, review of The Hazards of Good Breeding, p. 1565.

Library Journal, January, 2003, Reba Leiding, review of The Hazards of Good Breeding, p. 159.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 23, 2003, Mark Rozzo, review of The Hazards of Good Breeding, section R, p. 14.

New York Times Book Review, February 9, 2003, Jennifer Egan, review of The Hazards of Good Breeding, p. 7.

Publishers Weekly, December 2, 2002, review of The Hazards of Good Breeding, p. 31.

ONLINE

Boston Phoenix Online,http://www.bostonphoenix.com/ (February 13, 2003), Nina Willdorf, review of The Hazards of Good Breeding.

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