Pink Slip by Rita Ciresi
(Delta, $11.95, R) ISBN 0-385-32363-8
****
Please ignore the misleading tag line on the front cover of Pink Slip, added, no doubt, by some overzealous publisher's representative who wanted to jump on the good old Bridget Jones' Diary bandwagon. "Lisa's mother wants her to get married so badly that anything in pants will do" -- sounds like a zany comedy is awaiting between the covers, doesn't it? But this novel is not a lighthearted romp. Although it features some witty and humorous scenes, it also has a very serious side.

Actually, the first chapter is pretty funny, but then it appeared separately in a literary journal before the rest of the novel was published. Our heroine, 25 year old Italian-American Lisa Diodetto, is nonplussed when her usually economical (okay, cheap) mother gives her a large present for her birthday. It turns out to be one of those inflatable dummies that women are supposed to put in their cars to scare away would-be robbers and rapists. It appears as if Mrs. Diodetto has despaired of her younger daughter ever finding a flesh-and-blood model to make Lisa settle down and be a good Italian wife and mother, like Lisa's older sister Carol. She's distraught that Lisa has made a career out of being a bad girl who indulges in sex, alcohol and recreational drugs with little regard for her career or her future.

Fortunately, Lisa's cousin and gay gal-pal Dodie has finally convinced Lisa that it's time to grow up. She has left her dead-end publishing job in New York City and moved to suburban Ossining to take a position in the editorial department of a pharmaceutical company. But soon it becomes apparent that Lisa hasn't quite abandoned her penchant for bad judgement. She embarks on a clandestine affair with a company vice president - who is also her boss.

Eben Strauss is eleven years older than Lisa and almost her antithesis in personality. The son of a concentration camp survivor, he has always been a paragon of good behavior. After a variety of one-night stands and affairs with married men, Lisa isn't quite prepared for Strauss' serious, attentive but almost controlling behavior. The more she learns about him and his past, the more she is surprised to find herself genuinely caring for him. But her relationship with Strauss is headed for rocky waters.

It is 1985, and the phrase "sexual harassment" is just beginning to be heard -- in fact, Lisa is responsible for editing the new company policy on the topic. Maybe the couple can survive that issue, but when Lisa's wild past comes back to haunt her, she has to share her darkest secrets with Strauss. Eben may be drawn to Lisa's free-spirited personality, but his tolerance has its limits, and they may have been reached.

Lisa's honest first-person narrative is equally effective in humorous, tender or tragic scenes. You might wish she would grow up a bit, but you can't help liking her and identifying with her struggle between traditional Old World and modern urban values. The developing relationship between Lisa and Strauss is described realistically, not with rose-colored romantic glasses, which makes the occasional sweetness even more touching. Conversely, when their relationship falters I felt as if I were personally experiencing a loss. I'm still not sure how I feel about its surprising, bittersweet resolution. I'm also not sure if Lisa found a man who truly cares for her or one whose judgmental attitude will only lead to more conflict.

But I give Ms. Ciresi credit for making me think and for creating such a flawed yet sympathetic character. I wouldn't mind reading more about Lisa's childhood and her family, including her penny-pinching mother and traditional sister, as well as her late father, whose emotionally distant personality shaped much of Lisa's behavior. I'd also like to hear more about her life five or ten years after the events in this novel take place. Pink Slip (the title, by the way, has several meanings, one of which is slyly revealed at the novel's conclusion) is recommended to readers who appreciate novels that focus on a variety of relationships -- with family, lovers, co-workers -- and to those who don't mind finding laughter and tears in the same location.

--Susan Scribner


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