Shute, Jenefer 1956–

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

SHUTE, Jenefer 1956–

PERSONAL:

Born July 11, 1956, in Johannesburg, South Africa; citizenship, British. Education: University of Cape Town, B.A., 1977; University of California, Los Angeles, Ph.D., 1983.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Department of English, Hunter College, 1232HW, 695 Park Ave., New York, NY 10021. Agent—Elizabeth Lerner, Dunow, Carlson, & Lerner, 27 W. 20 St., New York, NY 10011. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER:

Writer and educator. University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa, junior lecturer in English, 1977-78; Smith College, Northampton, MA, assistant professor of English, 1983-85; Tufts University, Medford, MA, instructor in writing, 1985-86; Emerson College, Boston, MA, assistant professor of writing, literature, and publishing, beginning in 1986; Hunter College of the City University of New York, professor of English, 1995—. Visiting professor at the University of Paris and writer-in-residence at the University of Cape Town.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Sears-Roebuck Award, 1990; fiction award and nonfiction award, Massachusetts Artists Foundation, both 1990; Top Twenty Award, Feminist Book Festival (London, England), 1993; fellow at Fondazione Bogliasco (Italy), 1996; resident at Tyrone Guthrie Centre (Ireland), 2000; New York Foundation for the Arts fellow in nonfiction literature, 2001; awards from the Ledig-Rowohlt Foundation, Switzerland, and the Djerassi Foundation.

WRITINGS:

novels

Life-Size, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1992.

Sex Crimes (novel), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1996.

Free Fall, Secker & Warburg (London, England), 2002.

User I.D., Houghton (Boston, MA), 2005.

Contributor of short stories and essays to books, including: 110 Stories: New York Writes after September 11, A City Imagined: Cape Town and the Meanings of A Place, The Garland Companion to Vladimir Nabokov, Garland, 1995, and Lolita: A Casebook, Oxford University Press, 2002. Contributor to periodicals, including Harper's, Sidestreets, Nation, Eurograd, Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, American Studies, Dance, and the Internet magazine Salon.com. Shute's novels have been translated into French, German, Italian, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, Greek, and Japanese.

SIDELIGHTS:

Jenefer Shute has written several novels that focus on socially relevant topics, including anorexia, sexually-motivated crime, and identity theft. In an interview with Dick Donahue in Publishers Weekly, the author commented that she does not set out to write about topical events: "I never think of newsworthiness when I'm choosing a topic for a novel, because that's something you have to live with for at least three years. I just follow my own obsessions and curiosities of the moment, and somehow by the time the book is published the topics tend to be out there in the zeitgeist."

In Free Fall, Shute tells the story of a woman whose mother dies in a plane crash in Long Island Sound. The narrator, Kim, recalls her mother and remembers a nervous and unhappy woman and the difficult relationship that the two women had. In a review for the Economist, a contributor noted that the author's book was published in England but not in the United States. According to the reviewer, following the terrorist plane crashes into the World Trade Center buildings in 2001, publishers shied away from anything that could be construed as "sensationalism" and taking advantage of the tragedy. The reviewer went on to note: "Why not explore catastrophe's personal consequences imaginatively? In the face of horror, it is natural to hide our eyes. But fiction offers bolder possibilities, at least when it is not, in Philip Larkin's phrase, a frieze of grief. Ms. Shute's remarkable book passes that simple test."

While Free Fall may have only been tangentially related to the terrorist plane attacks in that it featured a tragic plane wreck, Shute's novel User I.D. takes the growing problem of identity theft and makes it the central event upon which she builds her story. Vera de Sica lives in New York when her rental car is stolen and, along with it, all the information needed for someone not only to get and use credit cards in her name but also to begin masquerading as her. The thief's girlfriend, Charlene Cummins, uses her new identity not only to spend money but also as a way to possibly escape an unhappy relationship. In the meantime, Vera is also unhappy with her life and wishes she were someone else. Writing in USA Today, Kathy Kiely noted that the author uses the plot device "to explore some age-old questions: What makes you you? And is it really possible to change the parts that you don't like?" A Publishers Weekly contributor called the novel "well-researched and absorbing." In a review for Booklist, Kristine Huntley referred to User I.D. as "a gripping exploration of a new kind of crime."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

periodicals

Booklist, August, 2005, Kristine Huntley, review of User I.D., p. 1996.

Economist, June 8, 2002, review of Free Fall.

Entertainment Weekly, December 6, 1996, Margot Mifflin, review of Sex Crimes, p. 59; August 12, 2005, Jennifer Reese, review of User I.D., p. 82.

Library Journal, August 1, 2005, Robin Nesbitt, review of User I.D., p. 71.

New York Times Book Review, September 4, 2005, Elsa Dixler, review of User I.D., p. 16.

People, November 11, 1996, Pam Lambert, review of Sex Crimes, p. 42.

Publishers Weekly, February 10, 1992, review of Life-Size, p. 71; September 2, 1996, review of Sex Crimes, p. 108; June 27, 2005, review of User I.D., p. 42; August 16, 2005, Dick Donahue, "Three Answers: Jenefer Shute," interview with author.

USA Today, August 25, 2005, Kathy Kiely, review of User I.D., p. 05D.