Cathleen Schine (shin) has carved a niche for herself as a novelist of ideas who gives the genre of the intellectual novel a distinctly feminist slant. Increasingly respected as a novelist, she is also a well-known journalist and cultural commentator.
Schine lived an undramatic suburban childhood marred in her late adolescence by an automobile accident that caused severe facial damage. She went through an extensive period of convalescence, both physical and psychological, which later served as the model for the experience of the title character in her first novel, Alice in Bed. After graduating from college, Schine moved to Greenwich Village in New York City, where she undertook graduate studies at New York University. Schine originally intended to become a professor of medieval studies, and she did considerable doctoral work in that field. Some of her interests were in the millenarian thought of the Middle Ages and in the society of Renaissance Florence. She decided that the academic life was not for her, however, and undertook to pursue a literary career.
Schine’s first novel, Alice in Bed, was—like many first novels—autobiographical, though the book is told in the third person. The book explores the irony that, even though Alice suffers as a result of her incapacitation, being “in bed” is, in a sense, the natural condition for an intellectual, emphasizing as it does the contemplative over the active. “In bed,” of course, also has a sexual connotation, with Alice having several sordid, somewhat involuntary affairs with the doctors treating her at the hospital.
The most prominent relationship in the book, however, is between Alice and her mother, an ornithologist. Alice’s conflicts with her parents are explored in the traditional vein of Jewish humor. This influence contributes to the end of the book, where Alice, finally out of the hospital, becomes romantically involved with a doctor named Nick—somewhat ironically, in that her entire ambition through most of the book had been to get out of the reach of doctors. Alice in Bed received an unusual amount of notice for a first novel. Many reviewers praised its wry, distanced tone and its engaging narrator. Others, though, complained that the book had an overly negative view of romantic love and that...
(The entire section is 952 words.)