Review of Pink Slip by Rita Ciresi. Delacorte Press. 353 pp. $22.95.
It is 1985, and twenty-five-year-old Lisa Diodetto, after paying dues in a publishing job and a rat-infested apartment, has landed a relatively cushy job editing press releases and brochures for a giant pharmaceutical company. Now she's working and living in the 'burbs, making decent money and looking for Mr. Right. Her boss, Eben Strauss, nice-looking but very tightly wrapped, couldn't be The Guy--could he?
Pink Slip takes us through the ups and downs of the romance between Lisa and Strauss, a classic mismatch if ever there was one. Lisa is the feisty product of New Haven's Italian ghetto, her working-class instincts tempered by a Sarah Lawrence education and the influence of her sophisticated gay cousin, Dodie. Strauss is the son of a Treblinka survivor, sweet in his way, but fearful and controlling.
Ms. Ciresi's first novel, Blue Italian, was also about a young Italian woman who falls in love with and marries a Jewish man. Pink Slip is a much better book, if only because it takes an interest in characters other than the protagonist. I wasn't convinced by the central relationship of the story; no matter how much Lisa wants to settle down, Strauss is much too stodgy to keep her interested for the long haul. But the friendship between Lisa and her cousin, who is her real soul mate, rings absolutely true. Ms. Ciresi also does a great job of capturing the particular kind of terror AIDS created in the mid-eighties, when there were no therapies and we didn't know enough about the disease to feel confident in any intimate contact, even if it was non-sexual.
Ms. Ciresi evades the issue of interfaith child rearing in both Blue Italian and Pink Slip, and it could have been an issue in each novel, since both protagonists feel an ongoing attachment to Catholicism and seek some measure of solace from the Church. But Pink Slip isn't a novel meant to tackle thorny societal problems. It's a beach book, pure and simple--if Iris Rainer Dart, author of Beaches, had been Italian, she would have written it--designed for readers who want to laugh a little, cry a little, and sigh at the end.