Wolitzer, Hilma 1930-
Wolitzer, Hilma 1930-
Born January 25, 1930, in Brooklyn, NY; daughter of Abraham V. and Rose Liebman; married Morton Wolitzer (a psychologist), September 7, 1952; children: Nancy, Margaret. Education: Attended Brooklyn Museum Art School, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, and New School for Social Research.
Writer and teacher of writing workshops. Bread Loaf Writers Conference, staff assistant, 1975 and 1976, staff member, 1977-78 and 1980-92; Wichita State University, distinguished writer-in-residence, 1979; visiting lecturer in writing at University of Iowa, 1978-79 and 1983, Columbia University, 1979-1980 and 2004-05, New York University, 1984, and Swarthmore College, 1985; has also worked as a nursery school teacher and portrait artist at a resort.
International PEN, Authors Guild (executive board member), Authors League of America, Writers Guild of America East.
Bread Loaf Writers Conference scholarship, 1970; fellowships from Bread Loaf Writers Conference, 1974, Guggenheim Foundation, 1976-77, and National Endowment for the Arts, 1978; Great Lakes College Association award, 1974-75, for Ending; New York State English Council Excellence in Letters Award, 1980; American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award (literature), 1981; Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize (honorable mention), University of Rochester, 1981, for Hearts.
Ending, Morrow (New York, NY), 1974.
In the Flesh, Morrow (New York, NY), 1977.
Hearts, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 1980, reprinted, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2006.
In the Palomar Arms, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 1983.
Silver, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 1988.
Tunnel of Love, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.
The Doctor's Daughter: A Novel, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Summer Reading: A Novel, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2007.
Introducing Shirley Braverman, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 1975.
Out of Love, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 1976.
Toby Lived Here, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 1978.
Wish You Were Here, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 1985.
The Company of Writers: Fiction Workshops and Thoughts on the Writing Life, Penguin (New York, NY), 2001.
Also author of screenplay adaptations for her novels In the Flesh and Ending; an episode from the series Family, American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.; three shows for Public Broadcasting Service, and Single Women, Married Men (teleplay), Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. Contributor to anthologies, including From Pop to Culture, compiled by Michael E. Malone and Myron Roberts, Holt, Rinehart and Winston (New York, NY), 1970; The Secret Life of Our Times: New Fiction from Esquire, edited by Gordon Lish, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1973; Bitches and Sad Ladies, edited by Pat Rotter, Harper Magazine Press, 1975; All Our Secrets Are the Same: New Fiction from Esquire, edited by Gordon Lish, Norton (New York, NY), 1976; The Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary Short Stories, edited by Robert Pack and Jay Parini, Bread Loaf, 1987; The Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Essays, edited by R. Pack and J. Parini, Bread Loaf, 1989; Vital Lines, edited by John Mukand, M.D., St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1990. Contributor of stories and reviews to Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, New American Review, Ms., Ploughshares, Newsday, New York Times, and Washington Post.
Ending, In the Flesh, and Hearts have been optioned for motion picture production.
Hilma Wolitzer was a homemaker in the suburbs of New York City until, at the age of thirty-five, she had her first short story published, titled "Today a Woman Went Mad at the Supermarket." Since beginning her career as a writer, Wolitzer has become a successful novelist. She has built a substantial following for her novels, earning a "mini-cult of fiction fans," stated Dan Wakefield in Nation. Her fiction is set in the middle-class households she knows best, although she hasn't experienced the problems around which most of her stories are built. Also central to her novels are well-developed, realistic characters. Martha Saxton in Ms. commented on the flavor of Wolitzer's work, calling her "a poet of domestic detail." Although it is these novels for which she is best known, Wolitzer has also contributed to a multitude of anthologies and has published a few children's books as well.
Most of Wolitzer's novels concern typical domestic situations that are familiar to many modern readers. For example, in Ending, a young wife must face her husband's struggle with terminal cancer; In the Flesh features a woman who learns to grow after her husband leaves her; in Hearts, a widow tries to deal with her late husband's stepdaughter; and In the Palomar Arms chronicles a young college student's affair with a married man. Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post Book World felt that Wolitzer's use of a familiar story fails in In the Palomar Arms. He noted that "for all the abundant skills Wolitzer brings to [the novel] she merely retells a twice-told tale; it's a great pleasure to read In the Palomar Arms, but at the end what you know more than anything else is that you've been there before."
However, many critics believe that Wolitzer handles her time-honored plots with enough expertise to make the stories seem fresh. R.Z. Sheppard indicated in Time that Ending "could easily have been a dreadful book" because of its familiar storyline. "Instead, it is an extraordinarily good one." Elizabeth Pochoda in Ms. commented that the domestic characters and plot of Hearts "would be forbidding stuff for nearly anyone except Wolitzer." In the Chicago Tribune Book World, reviewer L.M. Rosenberg pointed out that Hearts "is a small masterpiece—not a big book, not a philosophically sophisticated book, but perfect and true in its own ineffable way." Newsweek contributor Raymond Sokolov praised Wolitzer's use of a typical suburban setting in In the Flesh, indicating that she implies "a world of pain and aspiration underneath the studied and malign banality. [The novel] is an utterly poised and fine achievement, as good in its unostentatious way as anything in recent fiction." Anne Tyler in the Detroit News, writing of In the Palomar Arms, suggested that Wolitzer's "unerring eye for the detail that sums up a world" makes the novel come alive.
Wolitzer's stories present ordinary characters realistically, but she has been accused by some reviewers of making her characters so ordinary that they are bland. Lis Harris commented in the New Yorker on In the Flesh, indicating that "it is impossible to dislike any of the characters" in the novel. But she felt that it "is equally impossible … to generate much enthusiasm for them, because they're cut from such predictable molds … [Wolitzer] makes them so easily identifiable and innocuous that she robs them of any emotional force." Joyce Carol Oates in the New York Times Book Review remarked similarly of In the Palomar Arms that the novel's "primary weakness … is a certain blandness of characterization; Daphne and Kenny and Axel and Nora all sound exactly alike, musing to themselves in precisely the same idioms and speech rhythms."
Doris Grumbach expressed a different viewpoint in the Washington Post Book World, stating that Wolitzer's typical characters are true to life and accurately portrayed. She indicated that Hearts is a "novel so rich in well-realized characters … that it raises ordinary people and everyday occurrences to a new height." Grumbach praised the development of the protagonist, noting that "the reader has the extraordinary feeling she exists in real life and that he is encountering a perfectly ordinary young woman of little character or distinction." "Wolitzer is able to suggest," continued Grumbach, "as few modern writers can, the true ambivalence of human character, the duality of feeling that lives in us all. The expected stereotype falls away before her subtleties." Yardley also commended Wolitzer's writing, remarking that she "adamantly refuses to sentimentalize her characters or to allow them easy answers to life's difficulties."
After a twelve-year hiatus from writing, Wolitzer made a comeback with her seventh novel, The Doctor's Daughter: A Novel, which Library Journal reviewer Beth Gibbs called "a smart, interesting look at the components of the midlife crisis of an accomplished woman." "It has all the signature characteristics of a Hilma Wolitzer novel: a cast of sympathetic characters, a sense of humor in the face of death and other losses, a brisk pace and a plot that includes many of the cultural concerns of the moment," said New York Times reviewer Jane Gross. In the novel, Wolitzer's main character, fifty-one-year-old Alice Brill, awakens one morning to the sense that something is very wrong, and, to make matters worse, she has no idea what exactly this fresh feeling of dread is all about. Her life is far from idyllic: she recently lost her job as an editor in a publishing house (although she now works as a freelance "book doctor"), her marriage has hit a rough patch, her grown son can't seem to make his way in the world, and her father, once a revered surgeon, has fallen prey to Alzhe- imer's and currently resides in a nursing home. Urged into therapy by her best friend, Alice is forced to reevaluate her idealized memories of a privileged childhood and, in turn, begins to uncover the source of her dread. "Alice's first-person narrative is utterly convincing, but Wolitzer's feat is to use that single voice to evoke a world filled with light and air, color and sensation.… Somehow, she manages to make us sympathize with every character, even when (or because) they're being unreasonable," noted critic Dawn Drzal in the New York Times Book Review. "This is an engrossing, beautifully written story, and I recommend it highly," commended reviewer Terry Miller Shannon in Bookreporter.com.
In Wolitzer's eighth novel, Summer Reading: A Novel, Alyssa "Lissy" Snyder, trophy wife and unsuccessful stepmother, decides to host a group of weekly readers called The Page Turners in hopes of making a good impression with the Hamptons socialities. She recruits Angela Graves, a retired academic, to lead the group. Together with Michelle, a young local that Lissy hires as her housekeeper, these three women and "their summer travails, their search for love and commitment, and their attempts to ditch their never-perfect pasts make up the story of Summer Reading," as Jana Siciliano put it in her review of the book for Bookreporter.com. "Maintaining three perspectives throughout a comparatively short book without labored or slick effect is no mean feat. But once she gets things up and running, Wolitzer accomplishes it with unforced smoothness," observed critic Anne Mendelson in the New York Times Book Review.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 17, Gale, 1981.
Booklist, April 1, 1994, Denise Perry Donavin, review of Tunnel of Love, p. 1405; November 15, 2005, Joanne Wilkinson, review of The Doctor's Daughter: A Novel, p. 28; March 15, 2007, Katherine Boyle, review of Summer Reading: A Novel, p. 27.
Books, July 16, 2006, Sarah Blake, review of The Doctor's Daughter, p. 8; April 15, 2007, review of The Doctor's Daughter, p. 11.
Center for Children's Books Bulletin, December 1, 1984, review of Wish You Were Here, p. 76.
Chicago Tribune Book World, November 23, 1980, L.M. Rosenberg, review of Hearts.
Cosmopolitan, July 1, 1988, Louise Bernikow, review of Silver, p. 24.
Detroit News, June 19, 1983, Anne Tyler, review of In the Palomar Arms.
Emergency Librarian, May 1, 1982, review of Toby Lived Here, p. 30; March 1, 1989, review of Introducing Shirley Braverman, p. 52.
Glamour, July 1, 1988, Laura Mathews, review of Silver, p. 116.
Horn Book Magazine, January 1, 1985, Charlotte Draper, review of Wish You Were Here, p. 63.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2005, review of The Doctor's Daughter, p. 1210.
Library Journal, April 15, 1994, Keddy Ann Outlaw, review of Tunnel of Love, p. 115; November 1, 2005, Beth Gibbs, review of The Doctor's Daughter, p. 70.
Ms., October 1977, Martha Saxton, review of In the Flesh, p. 40; December, 1980, Elizabeth Pochoda, review of Hearts, p. 38; August 1, 1987, review of Wish You Were Here, p. 160.
Nation, November 8, 1980, Dan Wakefield, review of Hearts, p. 486.
New Leader, October 3, 1988, Leila Ruckenstein, review of Silver, p. 21.
New Republic, November 15, 1980, Nicholas Delbanco, review of Hearts, p. 36.
Newsweek, September 19, 1977, Raymond Sokolov, review of In the Flesh, p. 110; December 15, 1980, review of Hearts, p. 96.
New Yorker, December 26, 1977, Lis Harris, review of In the Flesh, p. 68.
New York Times, October 7, 1977, review of In the Flesh, p. C29; February 3, 1980, review of Toby Lived Here, p. 33; November 27, 1980, review of Hearts, p. C19; May 14, 1983, review of In the Palomar Arms, p. 15; October 7, 1984, Merri Rosenberg, review of Wish You Were Here, p. 29; June 15, 1988, Michiko Kakutani, review of Silver, p. 29; May 6, 2006, Jane Gross, "A Writer's Characters Are Back; Words Flow," p. 7.
New York Times Book Review, September 11, 1977, review of In the Flesh, p. 14; February 3, 1980, review of Toby Lived Here, p. 33; November 9, 1980, review of Hearts, p. 15; June 5, 1983, Joyce Carol Oates, review of In the Palomar Arms, p. 14; October 7, 1984, Merri Rosenberg, review of Wish You Were Here, p. 29; July 10, 1988, Ellen Currie, review of Silver, p. 15; August 13, 1989, review of Silver, p. 28; May 1, 1994, Benjamin Cheever, review of Tunnel of Love, p. 17; March 19, 2002, Dawn Drzal, review of The Doctor's Daughter, p. 19; March 19, 2006, "Coming of Age at 51," p. 19; June 3, 2007, Anne Mendelson, review of Summer Reading.
People Weekly, May 9, 1994, Dani Shapiro, review of Tunnel of Love, p. 35; May 9, 1994, "Talking with … Hilma and Meg Wolitzer: Like Mother like Daughter," p. 36.
Publishers Weekly, August 24, 1984, review of Wish You Were Here, p. 80; May 30, 1986, review of Wish You Were Here, p. 72; November 28, 1986, review of Toby Lived Here, p. 80; June 3, 1988, Sybil Steinberg, review of Silver, p. 66; May 26, 1989, review of Silver, p. 62; March 14, 1994, review of Tunnel of Love, p. 62; October 31, 2005, review of The Doctor's Daughter, p. 30; March 19, 2007, review of Summer Reading, p. 40.
School Librarian, May 1, 1989, review of Toby Lived Here, p. 79.
School Library Journal, February 1, 1984, Pat Sharp, review of Toby Lived Here, p. 28; November 1, 1984, Cynthia K. Leibold, review of Wish You Were Here, p. 140.
Time, August 26, 1974, R.Z. Sheppard, review of Ending; July 4, 1988, review of Silver, p. 70.
Times Educational Supplement, April 1, 1988, Sandra Kemp, review of Out of Love, p. 22.
Times Literary Supplement, July 23, 1982, review of Hearts, p. 807; May 25, 1984, review of In the Palomar Arms, p. 598.
Tribune Books, July 10, 1988, review of Silver, p. 6; June 5, 1994, review of Tunnel of Love, p. 9.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April 1, 1985, review of Wish You Were Here, p. 53.
Washington Post Book World, October 26, 1980, Doris Grumbach, review of Hearts, p. 8; May 22, 1983, Jonathan Yardley, review of In the Palomar Arm, p. 3.
Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (August 8, 2007), Terry Miller Shannon, review of The Doctor's Daughter, and Jana Siciliano, review of Summer Reading.