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What She Saw...: A Novel Paperback – September 4, 2001

3.3 out of 5 stars 66 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Sometimes in a moment of limbo or confusion, it's advisable to make a list. An inventory of accomplishments, a chart of pros and cons. Lucinda Rosenfeld's first novel takes as its form a list of past boyfriends. Each section finishes the sentence begun in its title, What She Saw... in "Roger Mancuso, or 'The Stink Bomb King of Fifth Grade.'" Later, in college, it's "Humphrey Fung, or 'The Anarchist Feminist.'" The book's shape and humor come from the gathering logic of this catalog, how our heroine is repeatedly fooled by the illusions of lust, always looking for something new, someone who can eclipse the failed romances of the past.

Rosenfeld's protagonist, Phoebe Fine, is a sharp-tongued brainiac with rotten self-esteem. Born and raised in suburban New Jersey, she's the daughter of professional classical musicians, hippie theater types who embarrass their kids; they are always going into geeky raptures on the subject of chamber music or obscure lost arts. Phoebe wishes she could be considered "normal." She wishes she had blond hair and perfect teeth, but instead she's painfully ordinary: in the chapter "Jason Barry Gold, or 'The Varsity Lacrosse Stud'" Rosenfeld riffs expertly on the subject of Phoebe's ordinariness:

That's how ugly she was--ugly by virtue of the fact that she was unmemorable, a slab of alabaster awaiting a sculptor who never arrived, a "nothing burger" if there ever was one. Take her nose: it just kind of ended, and her forehead just kind of began--kind of like the weeks in a year and the years in a life. It was the same with her waist and her hips, and her neck and her shoulders. There was nothing definitive about her. She was just this filet of human flesh--just this blah girl running laps behind the gym until she thought her legs would snap, her heart explode.
The search for true love keeps Phoebe in a state of high anxiety. It's a wonder she ever gets any sleep. When the right guy gives her the right kind of attention, she's queen for a day. Alone, without the prospect of a lover, she starves herself, drinks too much, occasionally stares into the mystery of her past. What did she see in those men? What did they see in her? At once erotic and awkward, lightweight and troubling, Rosenfeld's debut possesses a powerful charm. Readers who grew up in the '70s and '80s will recognize the landmarks: Farah Fawcett posters, boring social studies classes explaining glasnost. Rosenfeld's a former New York Post nightlife columnist, and What She Saw... has the quick pace, twittering freshness, and panicked hipness of a club-hopper. Deadpan and stylish, it's a novel whose author is out to prove herself. And prove herself she does, in spades. --Emily White --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Both breaking up and growing up are hard to do, learns Phoebe Fine, the protagonist of Rosenfeld's engaging, nostalgic and sometimes frustrating first novel. Each chapter is devoted to a man who has captured Phoebe's attention, affection and occasionally her heart, between the ages of 10 and 25, starting with "Robert Mancuso, or 'The Stink Bomb King of Fifth Grade.'" Young Phoebe, the intellectuallyAif not sociallyAprecocious daughter of two professional classical musicians, is sassy and sympathetic in the amusing early chapters. But once she enters college, romance shows its darker sides, and Phoebe's desire to be loved takes its toll on her self-esteem. She develops eating disorders and suffers lapses of judgment in her amorous encounters; she has an affair with a married professor, and succumbs emotionally to a number of cads. "At the age of 20," Rosenfeld writes, "men had become the centerpiece of her life." After graduation, Phoebe moves to New York and dabbles in promiscuity to prove the power of her beauty, only to learn that "being beautiful wasn't nearly enough." Her search for self, fulfillment and true love goes on, though she's far too cynical to find anything but moments of clarity and fleeting bliss. Rosenfeld's style is direct and often witty, and the plot device is intriguing. The reader gets to know Phoebe as she interacts with her love interests; as she tests her mettle, she learns who she is, even if she doesn't quite like who she's become. But it's exasperating to watch Phoebe the wise, funny girl grows into Phoebe the insecure woman who mistrusts her own heart. First serial to the New Yorker. (Sept.) WINTER RANGE Claire Davis. Picador USA, $23 (272p) ISBN 0-312-26140-3 ~ The New West is the setting for an old-fashioned power struggle in Davis's entrancing debut. Sheriff Ike Parsons, 42 and married to fiery redhead Pattiann, patiently patrols a small Montana town whose cattle outnumber its residents. Pattiann, who always loved the ranching life, was reluctant to settle into her role as a townie's wife, and is bitter over her father's decision to pass on the family ranch to her younger brother. It seems a modern Western woman is powerless, except in the sexual realm, which Pattiann discovered as a rebellious, promiscuous teen. Chas Stubblefield was one of the many boys she drunkenly coupled with in her youth, and 16 years later, when Chas comes to her for sympathy, she fools herself into thinking that she and the down-and-out rancher might still strike sparks. A lonely bachelor, Chas lacks business savvy, and can't afford enough feed for his livestock during a particularly harsh winter. Compassionate (but ignorant of Chas's past with Pattiann), Ike offers to help Chas, fully expecting the stubborn, explosive man to swallow his pride. Chas's situation is indeed horrifying: his cattle are already dead or starving, and bankrupt Chas lives off the meat. Ike conceives a plan to mercy-kill the surviving animals, provoking Chas, now helpless to stop the law from taking everything he owns, to settle the score, even if it means hurting the woman he loves. Crisp details establish place and characters with authoritative clarity. As the characterization deepens, so do the suspense and the reader's empathy for decent people trapped by human flaws and fate. The narrative, moving surefootedly toward its denouement, raises serious questions about the law, love and ethics in a tough rural community. With prose as crystalline and clean as snow on the Montana prairie, Davis establishes herself as a writer to watch. Author tour. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (September 4, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385498233
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385498234
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #375,182 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I really enjoyed What She Saw.... I thought it was a very well-written piece of work, despite the fact that the main character, Phoebe, has serious issues. Lucinda Rosenfeld has done a wonderful job with this novel, and I will be sure to look out for her next offering.
Phoebe Fine begins her story in the late 70s during her fifth grade year in school. The boy's name is Roger "Stinky" Mancuso, and Phoebe has a crush on him that won't quit. However, Stinky becomes more than just a dream for Phoebe, in ways both good and bad, and this experience becomes the stepping stone for a long and twisted journey.
What She Saw... takes the reader through the odyssey that is Phoebe's love life. It is interesting to watch Phoebe grow up before our eyes, beginning with a sweet, curious kid to a messed-up adult still in search of love and fulfillment. The men that come into Phoebe's life sometimes stay, most often go, but always leave behind a piece of themselves that Phoebe carries with her. It is also interesting to see how each relationship develops and how, ultimately, they crumble. By the book's end, readers are left wondering about Phoebe -- does she make it; does she find true love; does she finally mature and realize that she is more than just the other half of a man?
I recommend this novel with confidence. However, it won't be for everyone. Phoebe is not a wholly likeable character. She is quite frustrating at times. But she is also human with the most basic of desires -- to find love and be loved in return. I could relate to Phoebe on this level, and I think that is the part that cinched the book for me. What She Saw... is indeed a wild ride, but definitely one worth taking.
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By A Customer on October 23, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I read Lucinda Rosenfeld's "What She Saw..." in one night, and it was like riding a roller coaster. At times, it was exhilirating and refreshing, funny and insightful, at other times it dragged beyond belief, and I couldn't wait to move on to the next chapter/guy. Not surprisingly, the characters and stories Rosenfeld clearly spent more time and thought developing (Spitty Clark, Humphrey Fung, Bruce Bledstone -especially Spitty Clark!) were the best and most interesting aspects of the book. The others (i.e., Kevin McFeeley, Arnold Allen) should have been left out completely; instead, they were brushed over in perfunctory, seemingly obligatory fashion. Certainly a better read would have been one that narrowed the list of ex-boyfriends to the few who played important roles in the character development of Rosenfeld's protagonist, Phoebe Fine. That way, their interrelation could have been explored and examined in greater detail. Nevertheless, Rosenfeld is a terrific writer, and I found myself laughing out loud at times. She just has to work on putting it all together in her next work, which I look forward to reading.
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By A Customer on September 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book reads like a cross between Welcome to the Dollhouse and a John Hughes movie. It is funny and brutally honest look at the trouble in looking for yourself in relationships. This has a great, self knowing heroine and is an andedote to all of the glossy girls dating books out there. The eighties stuff is hilarious to anyone who lived through roller disco, pac man and leg warmers. This is not a perfect book, but it sure was quirky, smart and fun to read.
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Format: Hardcover
Soon after I read this book, I tossed it out along with my retro polyester pants and orange creepers. The concept of the novel is a clever one and it starts out as being cute and funny. Even as a gay male, I could identify with Phoebe and a lot of her unwise choices in men.
Then somewhere along the line, the book loses what little bit of charm it has and suddenly you're finding yourself not liking Phoebe that much. As each man revolves his way through her life, you begin to dislike her and her choices more and more. Some of the boyfriends listed aren't even boyfriends but rather fantasy characters, penpals and in the case of Arnold Allen (the only Black guy who stereotypically appears on her list) a criminal. By the end of the novel you're thinking that she deserves everything that has happened to her. Some guys aren't good enough, others are too good and why doesn't she have any friends? One word for you Phoebe: THERAPY!!
At first I thought this was going to be a Sheila Levine for the new millenium. Whereas Sheila's self-depreciating humor and poor choices in men endeared you to her, Phoebe's self depreciating humor had you hoping she would grab a bottle of sleeping pills and end it all. I guess Mrs. Rosenfeld is a fairly talented writer as she was able to evoke such dislike for her protagonist from me, but overall this novel went absolutely nowhere and was a complete waste of my time. I liked Bridget Jones better and that's a stretch. I wouldn't really recommend this to book anyone. If you can find a copy, check out Gail Parent's 'Sheila Levine is Dead and Living in New York'. Although it's well over trhity years old now, it still maintains a crisp, hip, cutting edge feel to it unsurpassed by any other writer writing in the same vein as What She Saw.
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Format: Hardcover
Though extremely refreshing and witty during the first few vignettes, Rosenfeld's tiring dissertation in her repertoire of ex boyfriends and crushes become rather dreary and flat towards the end. I began to dislike the main character more and more as I witnessed her self-loathing and over self-analysis throughout the pages. At one point you just need her to start loving herself and get over it, so to speak. Perhaps its not about what she saw in Spitty Clark "The Gentle Rapist" or Humphrey Fung or Jack Geezo, but rather what she doesn't want to see in herself. Rosenfeld however does exhibit great moments in her prose when she is able to capture the awkwardness and timidnes of sexual intimacy, especially during the formidable teenage years. She also has a great hand at characterization. Nonetheless, a fair read (especially for post-break up times) even if one doesn't read all the way through.
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