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Isaacs, Susan

ISAACS, Susan

Born 7 December 1943, Brooklyn, New York

Daughter of Morton and Helen Asher Isaacs; married Elkan Abramowitz, 1968; children: Andrew, Elizabeth

Susan Isaacs was born in Brooklyn, New York, on 7 December 1943 to Morton Isaacs, an electrical engineer, and Helen (Asher) Isaacs, a homemaker. Isaacs was raised in New York except for a brief period when her family lived in Ohio. She entered Queens College (now Queens College of the City University of New York) after graduating from high school. She switched majors from pre-med to economics and finally to English.

Although Isaacs worked on the school newspaper, she did not consider becoming a professional writer until much later. She dropped out of Queens College in her senior year and became an editorial assistant in the reader mail department of Seventeen magazine in 1966. She married Elkan Abramowitz, a lawyer, two years later and was eventually promoted to senior editor, but quit in 1970 to stay home with her first child.

Isaacs worked briefly as a freelance writer for various journals and had a brief stint as a speechwriter for local Democratic politicians, but was dissatisfied with her career. It was when her second child was in nursery school that she thought of writing a novel. Although she put the idea off at first, she eventually settled into a schedule of writing for three hours every morning. Her first book, Compromising Positions (1978), was finished a year later. A friend of her husband's was an executive editor at Simon & Schuster, and he introduced Isaacs to an agent who sold the book to Times Books for its new fiction list.

Compromising Positions centers on upper-middle-class Long Island homemaker Judith Singer's amateur investigation into the brutal murder of Bruce Fleckstein, the local periodontist. In explaining her choice of her victim's occupation, Isaacs said, "I just figured dentists cause pain, so they deserve to die." Judith quickly finds herself entangled with the Mafia, an attractive policeman, and her suburban neighbors' dirty secrets as she tries to solve Fleckstein's murder. The book sold moderately well in hardback but received favorable reviews and was a Book of the Month Club main selection. The paperback and movie rights sold for large sums and the paperback version shot to the top of the bestseller lists.

Isaacs' second novel, Close Relations (1980), also focuses on a witty Jewish woman, although one remarkably different from Judith Singer. In Close Relations, Marcia Green is a divorced speechwriter working for an Italian New York gubernatorial candidate. During the campaign, Marcia becomes involved with both an Irish Catholic campaign manager and an eligible Jewish lawyer. The novel has been called a modern fairy tale and a "hilarious satire of ethnic stereotyping."

Isaacs' next novel Almost Paradise (1984), is a contemporary Cinderella story with a twist. As in the majority of Isaacs' work, the protagonist is a strong, independent female who nevertheless has trouble finding love. Jane Heissenhuber, who is poor and from an abusive home, falls in love with and marries handsome and wealthy Nicholas Cobleigh, who becomes a Hollywood superstar. Yet the couple's story does not end happily. Critics' reviews were mixed. Shining Through (1988), fared better with critics and became a successful motion picture in 1992 with Michael Douglas and Melanie Griffith. Its main character is feisty, intelligent, half-Jewish Linda Voss, a working girl who falls in love with her boss, handsome attorney John Berringer. The couple marry, but the marriage is not a happy one, and Linda eventually becomes an Allied spy working undercover in Nazi Germany. Unlike Almost Paradise, however, Shining Through has a Hollywood-style ending in which Linda finds the love and happiness she deserves.

Magic Hour, Isaacs' 1991 novel, features one of her few male protagonists, Long Island homicide detective Steve Brady. A Vietnam vet with a troubled past, Brady falls in love with a suspect in the murder of a movie producer. This novel has the same wickedly funny dialogue and eye for details that characterize Isaacs' writing. Isaacs stuck with a mystery but returned to a female protagonist in After All These Years (1993). This novel's heroine, Rosie, finds her husband murdered just after he announces he's leaving her for a younger woman. She becomes the primary suspect and sets out to find the killer to clear herself of suspicion.

Critics loved After All These Years but many didn't care for 1996's Lily White. The title character of the latter is a criminal defense attorney who defends a con man accused of murdering his latest victim. The book tells of Lily's efforts to free her client while simultaneously presenting her family history in flashbacks. Some reviewers complained the two tales didn't mesh and that Isaacs should have eliminated Lily's history.

In Red, White, and Blue (1998), Isaacs explores the questions of what it means to be an American by focusing upon an unlikely pair's investigation of a radical Wyoming militia group. Charlie Blair, an FBI agent, and Lauren Miller, a New York reporter, are drawn together by their immigrant Jewish ancestry and American values. Tension escalates as Charlie infiltrates the hate group, but all ends well. Isaacs turns her writing skills to nonfiction with her latest book, Brave Dames and Wimpettes (1999). This title is part of the Library of Contemporary Thought series, in which popular authors write about intellectual subjects for a general audience. Isaacs examines the roles of women as depicted in books, television, and movies, dividing female protagonists into one of the two title categories and offers candid opinions on popular films and fellow novelists from Thomas Harris (Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal) and James Patterson (Along Came a Spider, Kiss the Girls) to Terminator 2 and the Alien movies.

Isaacs has a remarkable eye for detail and a way with witty dialogue that make her novels come alive for readers. From Wyoming to Long Island and from contemporary Manhattan to Nazi Germany, her books are remarkably diverse in scope and setting. Quirky heroines and an occasional quirky hero are all ordinary people who encounter extraordinary situations that reveal their hidden strengths. As Isaacs herself once stated, "I like to show ordinary people reacting to ordinary circumstances. It's an opportunity for adventure, and I like women to have adventures. There's been far too little of it with women."

Bibliography:

Reference works:

CANR 20 (1987), 65 (1998). CBY (1993).

Other references:

People (30 Apr. 1984). PW (1 Feb. 1999). Writer (Feb. 1997).

—LEAH J. SPARKS

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