Overexposed: A Tale of Trading Places

Freaky Friday, Trading Places, and the old classic Prince and Pauper get a make-over in Susan Shapiro’s Overexposed. Rachel Solomon, an aspiring shutterbug from a Midwestern Jewish doctor’s family, escapes suburban paradise for the bohemia of New York City, much to her kin’s dismay. She gets a job at Vision magazine, replacing the previous art assistant, Elizabeth Mann, a daughter of a famous photographer. Little does Rachel know, the tall gangly brunette with looks not unlike her own, would replace her in her mother’s family album and even in the antique wedding gown that should’ve been hers.

The young women strike a chain-smoking junk-eating bar-hopping boyfriend-sharing Manhattan friendship in which Rachel looks up to her talented friend while sarcastic hotheaded Elizabeth seems to admire everything about Rachel: her clothes, her looks, and eventually her family. “You can have my soul,” she tells Rachel, “if I can have your hair,” but it is Rachel’s brother she’s after. When Elizabeth speed-marries Ben, nearly circumventing another family wedding, she blissfully abandons her high heels for nursing bras, whispering to Rachel at the baby-shower, “He’ll be […] related to you. He’ll have your blood.” And so the Solomons finally acquire a daughter they know how to love.

Based on a true story, the novel takes us through the trials and tribulations of a female friendship that is more like an on-again off-again love and hate affair with obstacles. Yet, it continues despite the anger and jealousy the two women sometimes feel for each other, their paths so intertwined, they couldn’t break up even if their lives depended on it. Grace Schulman, author of First Loves & Other Adventures called Overexposed a “delightful roman-a-clef” which in French means “a novel with a key” – a book describing reality behind a façade of fiction while key means a table one can use to swap out the names. In her recent essay A Tale of Getting Published that appeared in Publisher’s Weekly, Shapiro talks about what inspired the book and who’s who in the cast.

When asked what her family thinks about the novel, Susan Shapiro humorously said, “I tell my students, the first piece you write that your family hates means that you have found your voice.” A Manhattan journalism professor, she lives in Greenwich Village and teaches at the New School her own “instant gratification takes too long” writing method with the goal of publishing a piece by the end of the class. Shapiro wrote for The New York Times, Washington Post, L.A. Times, Newsweek, Salon.com, The Forward, Village Voice, People, More, Glamour, and Cosmopolitan. She is an author of five non-fiction books: Only as Good as Your Word, Lighting Up, Secrets of a Fix-Up Fanatic, Speed Shrinking and Five Men Who Broke My Heart, which was optioned for a feature film.

Susan Shapiro will be reading from Overexposed on Aug 25 at 7 p.m. at the Barnes and Noble on 86th and Lexington.