Book Review

Seeing Me Naked by Liza Palmer


Title: Seeing Me Naked
Author: Liza Palmer
Publication Info: The 5-Spot 2008
ISBN: 0446698377
Genre: Chick Lit

So much of the trade-sized books marketed towards us women deal with fellow women doing what I call “playing the FU Card.” Playing the FU card describes the moment when a woman seizes her own life with 9 fingers, lifting that all important middle finger on her dominant hand to whatever, or whomever, has been telling her she ought to do otherwise than embrace her own (dare I say it) potential. Commence sucking of marrow, and possibly other items depending on the book, and living of life. 

Seeing Me Naked is about playing the FU Card. Elisabeth Page is the daughter of a famous 60’s rebel novelist. Her mother is an effortlessly graceful WASPy hostess with kindness and best intentions everywhere, particularly when smoothing over the massive divots left by her husband in the pristine lawn of her life. Elisabeth’s brother has just published his own novel, and is trying to move out from under the shadow of his father’s success to establish his own. Elisabeth herself has chosen something far, far from writing as her own career: she’s a pastry chef. She’s landed a job at a marvelous restaurant in LA, working under a typically outlandish and demanding crazy ass of a head chef, and her world is a cycle of hot coffee, her Blackberry, cooking, dealing with her quietly dedicated assistant Samuel, and her noxiously malignant backstabbing assistant Julie. In between the daily cycles of her life, every now and again she has to make an appearance at home, which is, of course, ripe with high peaks of drama.

There are few words that make me sigh in happiness like the word “pastry.” So when I read the synopsis and was asked to review this book, I was all up in that pastry idea. While reading this book, I nearly gave up just past the halfway mark, because while I was entirely enamored of some of the characters, like Elisabeth’s brother Rascal, and her mother, Ballard Foster, who has the Best WASP Name Ever, and who has lovely core of strength that shows up when its needed, still wrapped in a white linen and navy blue napkin that’s perfectly folded, there was one problem.

Well, with Elisabeth, there were three problems:

1. I wanted to smack a bitch.
2. The book is told in first person.
3. Go To #1.

At several points, I started talking back to Elisabeth’s narration. “Bitch, you did not just do that.” “Dear Lord, woman, why are you such an asshole? No wait, I know why. Maybe you could both recognize that your family is 75% asshole AND then choose to NOT be an asshole? No?” “Oh, Bitch, you did not just do that.” It is alarmingly frustrating to read about someone who wants to change, says she should, and then doesn’t while commenting in that moment all the ways in which she should change, just act differently this one time.

Elisabeth fully recognizes that her family is profoundly dysfunctional, and how her role in life as a pastry chef is to cook the happiness for each of her customers and “envelop” them in it, and she recognizes that she, by virtue of being raised by a classy mother and a brash father, has a good bit of the Well Bred Asshole in her.

Problem is, she lets herself be an asshole way, way too long. Elisabeth’s story begins with an almost systematic description of all the ways in which her life is stagnant and her daily routine is largely determined by everyone around her. She has a journalist pseudo boyfriend cum fuckbuddy, Will, who stops in to stop in when he and Elisabeth find themselves in the same place. Will is a curious character; Palmer does a deft job of creating his vulnerabilities while still allowing him to demonstrate what a selfish buttmonkey he is as well. In the beginning, Elisabeth and Will are pretty much perfect for each other.

Then shit changes, as shit is wont to do. Elisabeth has an opportunity land in her lap that sends her career into a direction that her father would and does violently protest: television. (It’s evil, you know. Four out of five dentists don’t let their kids watch tv. Or eat pastry.) She watches her brother struggle to play his own FU Card with their mercurial egomaniac of a father. Both the Page children have opportunities come to them purely based on their father’s fame. But what both characters learn is that while the opportunity might have shown up for that reason, their independent and individual success is largely due to their own brilliance.

And that brilliance, on Elisabeth’s part, leads her to meet Daniel Sullivan, a very nice midwestern boy who coaches basketball at UCLA, who bids on a cooking lesson with Elisabeth as part of her mother’s latest charity event – a scene that’s toe-curlingly awkward for Elisabeth but does a laudable job of establishing the imbalance of her character between acting like an asshole and wishing she were nicer – and who is utterly enthralled by Elisabeth, not by her last name, not by her job, not by her wealth or her own relative fame. He likes her, and she realizes the difference between being liked and being used. I wish, though, that Daniel had been more developed as a character. As underdone as he was, he seemed like a catalyst for Elisabeth than a choice on her part. And there is a moment when Elisabeth is so unbelievably horrid to Daniel’s mother that it took a good hour away from the book for me to calm down.

The best part about the book? The writing. Hands down, even with a character who bugged the ever living goddam shit out of me, Palmer is an adept master at the phrase that makes one snort and nod – nod because she’s right about what she’s describing, and snort because she skewers it perfectly. The very best and poignant line of the book comes at the end, when Elisabeth realizes the full ramifications of that fact that ultimately, she has to play her FU card to her own self.

Palmer’s writing is what made the book better than the character in it, a character who so irritated me it was hard to root for her sometimes. While I can’t say I loved this book, I’d happily read another book written by Liza Palmer.

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Powells, or rented from Paperspine.

Comments are Closed

  1. fiveandfour says:

    I read this book about a week ago.  I couldn’t figure out if I didn’t love it because I had finished Names My Sisters Call Me just before reading Naked or if it was something in the book itself that held me at a distance from Elisabeth.  To explain a little further, with Names I saw some strong (and unexpected) parallels between the three sisters and my sisters and me.  Because reading Names was at times like seeing characters do things that I could easily see happening for real in my life, it gave me a lot of food for thought and had me looking at my sisters in a new way.  When I moved on to Naked, I found I have pretty much nothing in common with Elisabeth and it made me wonder if I need to be able to identify with a character in some way to really get into their journey.

    On the one hand, I don’t think I need that identification.  I mean, I’ve never been through anything remotely resembling what Rachel goes through in Rachel’s Holiday, yet I think of it as one of the finest – if not *the* finest – book I’ve read in the “chicklit” genre (though Anybody Out There? provides excellent competition for that crown).  On the other hand, seeing something of an experience I’ve lived through, or an experience someone I know has lived through, seems to move books upwards in my esteem without me even realizing it.

    Having said all that, I can’t argue against anything you said, Sarah.  Though I wasn’t quite as put off by Elisabeth as you were, I can see how she could get on one’s nerves.  I don’t think of that as necessarily a bad thing, but it does make it harder to think glowy thoughts about a book when the character that’s taking you through the story bugs the crap out of you. 

    And to close out my monster comment, I know this will sound like damning with false praise which is not how I intend this to sound, but I think a positive thing about this book and your review in regards to how “chicklit” is perceived – even with your C- grade – is the fact that this “conversation” is proof positive that the genre has moved on from where a lot of people think the genre lives:  in the world of ‘girl moves to the big city, loses a little weight, buys some fabulous shoes and suddenly finds life is wonderful’.

  2. SB Sarah says:

    I think a positive thing about this book and your review in regards to how “chicklit” is perceived – even with your C- grade – is the fact that this “conversation” is proof positive that the genre has moved on from where a lot of people think the genre lives:  in the world of ‘girl moves to the big city, loses a little weight, buys some fabulous shoes and suddenly finds life is wonderful’.

    I think you are absolutely positively rock-my-socks right about that. Chick Lit isn’t just shoes and weight loss any more than romance is about adverbs and rape. I think (sweeping generalizations ahoy!) that chicklit represents the fact that women “come of age” later in life, if “come of age” means assuming personal autonomy and self-actualization, and that in current society that status comes from a mix of factors, including employment, identification of goals, personal relationships, family relationships, and adult establishment of each. While some of that is so often symbolized by shoes and weight loss, they’re actually pretty hefty topics for contemporary women (no pun intended), and of course are summarily derided and dismissed as merely cosmetic.

  3. orangehands says:

    playing the FU card

    *snort* genius. and probably my favorite form of chicklit.

    actually, not quite sure if i’ve ever read another form of chicklit, now that i’m thinking about it.  of course, i haven’t read much chicklit period.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Okay, so I haven’t yet read anything by Liza Palmer, but I have to say that her titles rock.

  5. Mike Paahana says:

    i hang out naked in front of young girls an theyy act like they shame see my dick but all reely like see an touch it

  6. Laptoper says:

    It worth of looking 🙂

  7. mohsin says:

    Well SB Sarah sad to say that I’m a great deal like Elizabeth, career, classy Mums, and novelist Dad(music was the chosen poison of my own)aside. That and my being a dude:gasp:  Will be scoping out SMN and(at the risk of redundancy/smackdown via letters)revising my existence soon, and I’ve got you wonderful gals to thank!!!


  8. H57 Hoodia says:

    Great article. Well written, this will certainly help.

  9. Aaron says:

    I want to see your naked!

  10. Stephanie Kurze says:

    Did anyone read Palmers “Conversations with the Fat Girl”? Hands down one of my favorite books. I am making my reading group do it next month.

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