Wagman, Fredrica 1937-

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Wagman, Fredrica 1937-


Born April 21, 1937, in Philadelphia, PA; daughter of Nathaniel and Edith Barris; married Howard Wagman, February 21, 1956; children: Joel, James, Nela, Mary Fredrica.


Home—Philadelphia, PA.


Writer and novelist.



Playing House, Holt (New York, NY) 1973.

Magic Man, Magic Man, Holt (New York, NY), 1975.

Peachy, Soho Press (New York, NY), 1993.

Mrs. Hornstien, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1997.

His Secret Little Wife, Steerforth Press (Hanover, NH), 2006.


Fredrica Wagman is a writer and novelist based in Philadelphia, PA. Wagman's first novel, Playing House, deals with a woman unable to free herself from her childhood dreams and memories involving an incestuous relationship with her brother. In a Library Journal interview, Wagman explained that she endeavored "to paint in the most uncompromising language the absolute importance of finally abandoning childhood ties." The female character could not do this and so her life became a tragic attempt "at recapturing a dream."

Magic Man, Magic Man, Wagman's next novel, is about a woman who is enraged at the ease with which people betray each other. In her anger she marries at seventeen, divorces, and remarries another unsatisfactory mate. Martin Levin, writing in the New York Times asserted that "what is very good about the novel is its bouquet of sensory experience." The main character "is a sensuous plaintiff against life who records her sights, smells, and needs in pungent detail."

Peachy tells the story of middle-aged Patricia Fish Marvel, known as Peachy, and her search for wisdom and identity through memories, new adventures, and the onset of menopause. After helping her daughter get moved in as a first-year Harvard student, forty-five-year-old Peachy stops to meditate in a Cambridge bookstore, and is picked up by a man who she discovers is actually her favorite author. After returning home to attend her niece's wedding, Peachy runs into her estranged husband for the first time in more than a year. As the current events of her life unfold, she also meanders through her lifetime's worth of memories, from her early childhood to her discovery of writing, to her difficult relationship with her father and her troubled years in high school, and to her initial encounters with sex to the death of her first child in an automobile accident at the age of two. Peachy relates her story in a "breathless blend of misery, outrage, and glee" all the while heading toward a "hopefulness that many readers will find exhilaratingly accessible," remarked a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Because of "overwrought language" and "needless repetitions," Peachy is "often an exasperating book. But in the end none of these flaws dilute its unexpected power," commented Constance Decker Thompson in the New York Times Book Review.

A pair of women, at first at odds with each other, grow and mature into a tender and deep friendship over the years in Mrs. Hornstien. When seventeen-year-old Marty Fish is introduced to her boyfriend Albert's mother, Golda Hornstien, she does not know what kind of reception to expect. Mrs. Hornstien is a larger-than-life character, regal and commanding, clearly in charge of her life and her wealthy family in their luxurious Philadelphia apartment. When Albert announces his intention to marry the socially and financially inferior Marty, Mrs. Hornstien reacts poorly, expressing her displeasure and retiring to her sickbed. Marty is mortified, but a week later, Mrs. Hornstien reconsiders and accepts the situation, welcoming Marty to the family. As more than thirty years pass, Mrs. Hornstien faces the various events and tragedies of aging, including her husband's illness and eventual death, and her own gradually failing health. Over the years, the relationship between Marty and Mrs. Hornstien expands and deepens, until Marty herself has become the family patriarch and faces the inevitable death of the wise, tough, but loving woman she considers "the real teacher" of her life. Wagman is "compassionate in conveying the complicated emotions that bind a family" in her "honest, humane and surprising book," remarked a Publishers Weekly critic. Library Journal reviewer Beth E. Anderson commented favorably on Wagman's "delicately etched scenes of emotional combat and redemption" that transform narrator Marty Fish into a "woman of great strength and depth." Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, called the novel a "hilarious and tender tale in praise of marriage and family."

In His Secret Little Wife, Wagman presents a novel with the sensibilities of Nabokov's Lolita, a book in which a woman looks back at her pre-teen relationship with a much older man as the "most intense and fulfilled in her life," commented Nicholas Clee in the Manchester Guardian. Approaching her twelfth birthday, Hannah Elizabeth Gold lives with her family in an upscale Philadelphia neighborhood. One day, the family acquires new neighbors: musician, conductor, and cello teacher Otto von Ochsenstein and his wife. Arrogant, egocentric, and altogether unpleasant, Ochsenstein develops an intense interest in his young neighbor, spying on her through binoculars while she indulges his attentions with striptease shows. Hannah, a gifted cellist, becomes Ochsenstein's student, and soon the two are involved in a secret sexual relationship. Over the course of the novel, Hanna's "intense, feverish, and unhappy" voice "insinuates this short novel into the reader's imagination." Brooklyn Rail Web site critic Anjali Wason commented that Wagman's novel is "successful because it extracts Hannah from the confines of youth, forcing us to consider this pre-teenager as a seductive body-conscious nymphet." Wason concluded: "This psychological and emotional novel is haunting in its brazen treatment of taboo and beautiful in its lyrical observation of childhood."



Booklist, April 1, 1997, Donna Seaman, review of Mrs. Hornstien, p. 1269.

Guardian (Manchester, England), January 20, 2007, Nicholas Clee, "Rural Lives and Paedophiles," review of His Secret Little Wife.

Library Journal, June 15, 1973, interview with Fredrica Wagman; May 15, 1997, Beth E. Anderson, review of Mrs. Hornstien, p. 104.

Los Angeles Times, January 21, 2007, Mark Swed, "A Classic Coup," review of His Secret Little Wife.

New York Times Book Review, February 2, 1975, review of Magic Man, Magic Man, p. 10; January 17, 1993, Constance Decker Thompson, review of Peachy, p. 24; May 4, 1997, Ellen Feldman, "How to Marry a Millionaire," review of Mrs. Hornstien, p. 31.

People, August 18, 1997, Paula Chin, review of Mrs. Hornstien, p. 31.

Publishers Weekly, October 26, 1992, review of Peachy, p. 55; April 7, 1997, review of Mrs. Hornstien, p. 75.


Brooklyn Rail,http://www.brooklynrail.org/ (May 16, 2007), Anjali Wason, "Fiction: Being Lolita in Suburbia," review of His Secret Little Wife.

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