Any Place I Hang My Hat: A Novel Paperback – Apr 18 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
A political reporter in her late 20s goes in search of the mother who abandoned her when she was a baby in this jaunty if rather jerky 10th novel by Isaacs (Long Time No See; Red, White, and Blue; etc.). Amy Lincoln was brought up in the projects by her Grandma Lil, a leg waxer and devoted Falcon Crest viewer; her amiable father, Chicky, spent most of Amy's childhood in prison on a series of minor theft raps. A boarding school scholarship rescues Amy from lower-class oblivion; she goes on to Harvard and Columbia, then lands a job at In Depth, a highbrow weekly. Upbeat and self-deprecating, Amy spends little time bemoaning her past, but an encounter with college student Freddy Carrasco, who claims he's the illegitimate son of a Democratic presidential candidate, gets Amy wondering where her own mother might be. While advising Freddy how to approach his father, she uses her reporting skills to track down her elusive mother. The political subplot is anticlimactic—Amy doesn't even get a scoop—and Amy's eventual reunion with her mother, revealed to be a chilly suburban housewife, is credibly if rather disappointingly subdued. The parade of lavishly and loopishly described secondary characters and gossipy New York scene-setting give the novel its zing; Amy's rocky relationship with her documentary filmmaker boyfriend provides a jolt of romantic excitement and a happy ending.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Amy Lincoln has a knack for fitting in wherever she finds herself, whether it's attending an Ivy League college, visiting inmates in the state pen, or chumming around with the elite of the eastern seaboard. Problem is, all this fitting in means Amy doesn't really belong anywhere. A journalist with the prestigious news journal In Depth, Amy is assigned to cover the campaign of Senator Thomas Bowles, who is vying to be the Democratic Party's nominee in the 2004 presidential election. During one of the typically swank fund-raising events, a Latino college kid walks in, claiming to be Bowles' son. After the security detail whisks him away, Amy's interest is piqued, even though her magazine doesn't do tabloid-style scandal. But Amy's own checkered past--which includes abandonment by her mother when she was only a baby, visitations to her father in prison, and being raised by her shoplifting grandmother--fuels her desire to help this young man reunite with his birth family. Yes, this all smells quite strongly of self-discovery, but while Isaacs' plots often drift precariously close to cliche, she usually rights the ship with her keen sense of humor and character. So it is here as Amy comes to terms with the past but does it with charm and self-deprecating wit. Women's fiction with a tangy, contemporary bite. Mary Frances Wilkens
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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a lot of rules. She wrote about the suburban mom vs. working woman in a manner that poked fun at both. She let her heroine have an adulterous fling, and, somehow, it seemed
all right in a day and age when the sexual revolution was just something hippies were involved in. Over the years, in nine novels (ten, now!) Isaacs has given me much pleasure and literally has me stop and say more than once throughout each book-"that's happened to me...". My personal favorite of Isaac's novels is "After All These Years", but, then, I never met an Isaacs novel I didn't love.
I credit Susan Isaacs with starting the "chick lit" era, and she is a master. Her novels don't just make light of women facing issues, they generally are themed for a woman who is just discovering a whole lot about herself that she never knew. "Any Place I Hang My Hat" is no exception, although the heroine, Amy Lincoln (a 30-something Jewish-Italian New Yorker from the slums, with a missing mother who walked off and left her and a father ("Chicky") who has lived a life incarcerated, on and off)doesn't realize right away that she's destined to try to find her true self.
Naturally, Amy's used her wits and her knack for hard work and fitting in to go first to an exclusive boarding school, all expenses paid, then on to Harvard and Columbia to study journalism. She's a political writer for "In Depth" - a quality magazine with an educated following, and she's been involved for more than two years with a documentary
filmmaker, John Orenstein. She's got a longer relationship, for a decade and a half, with rich, exotic Tatty, her best
friend. The two met in boarding school when Tatty insulted her and Amy retaliated by punching her in the mouth. Tatty naturally does not have to work for a living, but chose a career in gourmet occasion cake making, after her two marriages failed. Isaacs normally draws me in with a more middle-aged heroine, but in the brilliant little journey that Amy makes to find herself in the novel, we quickly learn that she has an old soul.
Involved in the early part of the Democratic run for a presidential candidate, with a clever mix of real and imagined candidates, Amy's struck by the parallel between a young Hispanic man who crashes a fund-raiser, claiming the blueblooded Senator who is running for office is his father. Amy's own life has been lived trying not to speculate on why and how her mother, Phyllis, left her in the care of crazy Grandma Lil and jailbird Chicky. Phyllis never once looked back, and Amy has to decide - does she want to find Phyllis and find the answers to all those questions or is it just safer to leave the genie in the bottle?
Interspersed with the quest for her identity are the often humorous anecdotes of Amy's struggle with editorial control at the magazine, and her on and off again romance
with John. Warning: there is a broken heart that really leaves you feeling bereft in this novel.
In the concluding chapters, I will admit to tears, because Isaacs truly engaged me in her character, and never went over-the-top for her laughs. Indeed, Isaacs practices wit more than humor, romance more than sexual heat, and contemporary writing more than groundbreaking plotting. Reviewing the above, you may yawn and think it's just another plot that's been done before, but you haven't counted on Isaacs' style and way with a phrase or a concept. Here she has Amy assess her life:
"I could fit in anywhere: With all the kids on the bus going upstate to visit their fathers in prison. With all the Ivey girls and the guys they hung with. In a government seminar at Harvard. Drinking with the Democratic powers-that-be in Chicago. Except when you could theoretically live a thousand different lives, how do you pick the one where you belong?"
Join Isaacs and Amy for a journey of discovery, and enjoy the wit, charm, warmth, and ultimately and unfortunately, the end of a smart new novel. Isaacs only averages
one novel every 2.5 years. That's way too few with too much space between them, for my taste. Thus, I pay full price whenever I see she's got a new one on the shelves....believe me, "Any Place I Hang My Hat", was worth every penny!
Amy's story is memorable -- she was abandoned by her mother as an infant, and raised by her delusioned, neglectful paternal grandmother, and by her father, when he was not in jail. She sees school and education as an escape, and when she has the chance, she accepts a scholarship at an elite boarding school. From there, she attends Harvard and Columbia school of journalism, and gets a job as a writer for a serious news magazine. Her travels through the different social levels of urban New York, from the projects to prisons to political circles to elite boarding schools, result in really striking and thought provoking commentary. (I didn't agree with every thing that Amy or the other characters said, and, happily, it didn't appear that Issacs was offering a lecture.) At the same time, the story is accessibly comtemporary, making frequent reference to recent world events and popular culture in a way that grounds the story in a particular time and place and gives the impression that Amy is not so devoted to politics and CSPAN that she has never watched reality TV.
Susan Issac creates a intelligent, self-sufficient, yet vulnerable character and neither Issacs not her character seems inclined to understimate the intelligence of the reader. Amy is charming, smart (reading four or five newspapers a day with a keen interest in politics and current events) and interested in what is going on in the world around her. In order to grasp and appreciate some of Amy's wit and social criticism, the reader is expected to be a smart, well-aware person as well. Amy Lincoln is a truly memorable literary character, incredibly thoughtful, observant, honest, witty, and vulnerable.
One of my favorite scenes is one where Amy falls in her apartment (she later learns that she had broken three ribs) and she is unable to get up off the floor. She is in pain, and worried that she had really hurt herself. She wants to call someone and ask for help, but is afraid that no one would be interested enough to come and help her. She does call an aquaintance, lying on her back on the floor, but she is unable to bring herself to tell him what has happened to her. When she can't keep him on the phone any longer, she makes her way to her bedroom, and in the morning takes herself to an emergency room. The quiet, resigned way in which she deals with her aloneness is heartbreaking and impressive at the same time. Though scared, Amy never seems depressed. I hope that this book gets the attention it deserves.
Here she steps away from the suburbs into slightly edgier territory. Amy Lincoln, a mature 29-year-old political writer, has risen from a beyond-dysfunctional home in the projects. Following a scholarship to a select prep school, she fought her way into Harvard and then Columbia Journalism School.
And now she's feeling stranded. Her too-good-to-be-true boyfriend doesn't seem to be moving to marriage. Her best friend is between marriages. Her father, released from prison for the third time, won't introduce her to his new girlfriend; after all, he's been passing for 36.
It's not clear what pushes Amy to start asking questions about her past after all this time. Maybe she is inspired by a young man who crashes a senator's reception, claiming to be a long lost son. For some reason, she gets her father to talk about her long-lost mother, then uses her reportorial skills to track down the missing family.
As Amy explores her roots, we're treated to a detailed description of just about everyone she meets -- even people who just walk onstage for a few pages. These detours add color to the novel and I for one didn't mind slowing down.
The climactic scene pulls the book together, striking just the right note. We realize how cruelly Amy's mother set events in motion that harmed everyone she knew: her own parents, Amy's father and ultimately Amy herself. True, Amy went to good schools, but there's a hint of scar tissue when she deals with past and present relationships.
Sometimes Amy seems extremely mature for a 29-year-old; after all, the author's quite a bit older. She's been through a lot, though, so her character is plausible. Her romantic life is a little more far-fetched, and the ending seems to doom the book to the "women/romance" category.
Overall, though, I enjoyed this book. I get tired of whiny, helpless heroines who can't seem to take charge of their lives, so I found myself liking Amy's strength and her willingness to accept the consequences of her own actions.
In this novel, Isaacs' protagonist was plucked from a housing project and selected for an elite boarding school based on her brains. She then went to Harvard. When the novel opens, she is a journalist for a serious political magazine. Nothing this woman says or does shows any sign of intellect. I could not picture her as a respected political writer, or as she herself puts it, "a better-than-competent journalist and political analyst" (p.301). The reader would need to be shown these skills. Believe me, we aren't.
The protagonist's father, Chicky, a felon with a heart of gold, is equally implausible. Freddy, an alleged resident of the barrio, talks in an absurd manner. What Latino teenager says so-and-so "has been conferencing with my father's lawyer"?
I also was put off by Isaacs' ethnic chauvinism. A previous reviewer mentioned how this played out in terms of Mid East politics. I also observed it in the protagonist's many put downs of WASPS. It's OK to make fun of others, in a light-hearted way, but this had a mean-spirited quality, including discussion of how a blue-eyed man could not be attractive to the protagonist. Really? The color of a person's eyes is decisive in this regard?
This book is poorly put together, badly plotted, and without true character development. It's not even funny. The main character is annoying and narcissistic. If I had to guess how this book came about, I would say that Isaacs got so big in the sales department that her publisher let her venture forth with this, without the editing that's probably saved her in the past.