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April 02, 2004 - Image 55

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2004-04-02

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

On The Bookshelf

How Heather Rescues Passover

Seder firms the centerpiece for hip new novel.

DIANA LIEBERMAN
StaffWriter

F

ilmmaker and novelist Laurie Gwen Shapiro was
minding her own business in a New York City
deli when she spied a suave young woman of
about her age being treated like royalty.
After some questioning, she learned that the other woman
was the heir to the Streit's matzah dynasty. As the two became
friends, Shapiro began to germinate the idea that would
develop into her heimish new novel ; The Matzo Ball Heiress
(Red Dress Ink; $12.95).
"She gave me permission to tour the factory, which is still
on the Lower East Side," Shapiro says. "When I was talking
to the Streit family, I learned deliveries were going all over the
world.
"It's the one thing that really connects people — almost
every Jew has a seder. For Jews, it has become the equivalent
of Thanksgiving or Christmas."
Heather Greenblotz, the heroine of Shapiro's
novel, is the heir to the fictional Greenblotz
matzah fortune, founded by her grandfather
Izzy Greenblotz, the Henry Ford of matzah.
Grandpa Izzy, who coined the motto, "Buy
Greenblotz — Because Family Is Everything,"
stipulated that the company must never leave
its factory on the Lower East Side.
Feeling quite Jewish — after all, she reasons,
she lives in New York — Heather is actually
somewhat estranged from her Jewish heritage.
If she doesn't have a boyfriend to bring her
along to his own family's holiday dinner —
which is the case at the start of The Matzo Ball
Shapiro
Heiress — she stays home alone in her
Manhattan apartment and chows down a ham
and cheese panini.
It's not that Heather doesn't have her own
family. There's her repressed, preoccupied moth-
er, who makes it her business to fly off to for-
eign beaches every Passover; her disconnected
father, who left the family years before to escape
to Europe with a gay lover; her workaholic
cousin Jake, who does an excellent job of run-
ning the factory before running home each day
to his longtime girlfriend Siobhan Moran; and
numerous estranged cousins.
Heather's best friend and partner in her docu-
mentary filmmaking business is a self-confident
black woman who is dating a member of the
Egyptian delegation to the United Nations. Her
mailman, a Russian refugee, has a seder, but he hardly counts
as family.
Things come to a head when an attractive young television
producer and his equally attractive young cameraman, both
male and unattached, ask if they can film a live broadcast of
the Greenblotz family seder, to air on Passover. Business has
been slowing down a bit, so Heather gives in to her cousin
Jake's pleas and takes on the Herculean task of organizing her
first seder.
"It occurred to me, what if your entire brand depended on
keeping things quiet?" Shapiro says.

Her novel, a fast read with crackling dialogue and like-
able characters, gives new meaning to the word "family"
while taking a wry look at the gentrification of the Lower
East Side.
Shapiro, 37, is best known as co-producer with her
brother, David, of the 2001 theatrical documentary Keep
The River On Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale. This
uncovers the quirky life of Tobias Schneebaum, a
New York sociologist and explorer who became intimately
involved with the African tribes he came to study. The
Shapiro siblings won more than 10 major awards for the
movie.
Shapiro began writing while a student at New York's
Stuyvesant High School, where she studied for four semes-
ters with Frank McCourt, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author
of Angela's Ashes. "His voice is in my head, even when I'm
-
writing a comic novel," she says.
After high school, she went on to Syracuse University,
where she studied television and film. She
studied creative writing with novelist and
poet Stephen Dobyns, who began his career
as a police reporter in Detroit.
In addition to Keep The River On Your
Right, Shapiro co-produced two documen-
taries about the now-legendary McCourt
family. Her first play, Inventing Color, pre-
miered at the 2002 New York International
Fringe Festival and was awarded one of three
"Best in Festival" citations by Stagepress.
Shapiro's first novel, The Unexpected
Salami (Algonquin $10.95), is a semi-auto-
biographical romp involving a young
American woman and a crew of Australian
rockers. The book is currently in develop-
ment as a motion picture.
Unlike the dysfunctional Greenblotz fami-
ly, the Shapiro family is quite functional,
says the author, who is married to
Australian-born rock musician Paul O'Leary
and recently became the mother of a baby
girl, Violet Frances (a.k.a. Tziporah Chaia).
Her dad is not gay, and, unlike Heather's
stand-offish mom, Shapiro's mother is very
hands-on.
"She calls three times a day, especially
since I had the baby," Shapiro says. "I tell
her, 'Mom, why don't you leave me alone?'
"She says, 'You're lucky — some moms
call their kids maybe once every three

Having established her reputation as a serious person
through her film work, Shapiro is resigned to critics dis-
missing her novels as "chick lit."
"You can do high-end stuff and starve or you can write
lighter novels and sell 60,000 copies," she says.
"If they are going to put the label 'chick lit' on my
books, I'm going to play with it. There's no dearth of
Jewish women writers, but they tend to hide it. I thought,
`OK, What if I put Jewish right on the cover; what if I
make the name Greenblotz sexy?'
"Believe it or not, that's breaking ground." ❑

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10 am - 5 pm

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Installation demonstrations.
Ample parking available
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47n

4/ 2

2004

A1009114111,

55

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