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Sunday, November 16, 2008

An Essay on Two Women's Struggles and Their Books

This review doesn't quite fit the usual guidelines for reviews on this blog but one of the joys of being a blogger is that it's yours. (-: I liked the personal quality and hope you will, too. It's sent by writer, publicist and reader, Diane Ward.

Hi Carolyn:

As Thanksgiving draws near. I want to thank you for all the tips and encouragement and leadership you share with all us wannabe writers.

Sometimes I look back at things I've written and think "thank goodness nothing came of it." Anyhow, I want to share the very minimal and basic
book review I said I'd write on Notes on Life, by Eleanor Coppola as well as one by Dee Dee Myers called Why Women Should Rules The World. Dee Dee is former white house press secretary for Bill Clinton, and as many know, Eleanor is the wife of Francis Ford Coppola.

What strikes me as significant, is that both women have an amazing capacity for being around very powerful and successful men. In a strange way, I see these women as being flip sides of the same coin. Eleanor, by nature of her marriage to Francis and raising his three children - is feeling unrequited and somewhat of a second class citizen since the glory and the accolades are always bestowed on her husband. When her daughter Sophia Coppola begins to navigate a career for herself in his film world, Eleanor, expresses a quiet jealousy and competitiveness that mothers and daughters have anyway but this relationship seems doomed from the get-go.

As a parent, it is always assumed that our children will succeed us in life, but when death takes away Eleanor's first-born son, I don't think she ever quite recovers. There is a subtle depression that permeates the entire work and overshadows her thoughts and her ability to engage with her husband and his
entourage. She is in a tough spot. She shares the fact that her husband is the prodigy of Italian men who feel a woman's place is in the kitchen and for raising children.

Yet, Eleanor does not dispel the double standard this myth creates by pointing out that Francis' sister Talia, certainly has a first rate acting career and has been helped by roles she was given by her brother. Talia, has also married rich and successful men and this point is not mentioned or even addressed. Nepotism plays such a heavy hand in the Coppola family that it seems as though it is an entitlement and any one who wants to criticize this fact will be ostracized from the possibility of ever being included in the inner-workings of this entertainment family dynasty.

No one really talks about it except when Eleanor loosely brings it up as she reflects on Sophia's being cast as replacement actress for Winona Ryder in the Godfather series when Winona becomes ill and has to drop out of the shoot. Sophia is made to look like the victim when certain press releases include the fact that Sophia was really too young for that part and only earned it because her father was the director.... Eleanor herself is always included in the budget of the film, either by doing consultant work and/or taking photographs for the possibility of making a documentary on the work. The price one pays for privilege is almost more than one can bear.

Dee Dee Myers on the other-hand, seems more angry than depressed. She finds herself in a job surrounded by sycophants and hangers on, not unlike the circus feeling that permeates the environment Eleanor Coppola has found herself in. To be the most important person in a job next to the President of the United States of America and have staff constantly undermining her authority and her position is not without its own kind of pain.

Outside of the Honorable Senator Dianne Feinstein and a few other women in her political circle, Ms. Myers was alone and abused. She had no one to turn to and no one trust.

The same climate seemed to filter around Eleanor, although with all her personal misgivings, she had at least one or two true girlfriends that she could count on when things got tough. For Dee Dee, the circumstances she found herself in seemed to be way more than she could handle without knowing who she could truly trust in tough times. Both women were in circles that attracted insincere people who pretend to be what they are not. That would make anyone paranoid and untrusting.

I came away feeling mixed emotions about what, if anything, both these women could have done to make their situation better. Once Dee Dee Myers got away from her job and found a husband and family of her own, she seemed to be stronger and less impacted by the negatives in her Washington world. Eleanor, on the other hand, is still the wife of Francis, still the mother for Roman and Sophia. Her blessings, may be her curse. I wish for both women to be strong and happy in their work and their lives. I want them to make my life better because of what they are going through. Maybe it's too much pressure on them.

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The New Book Review is blogged by Carolyn Howard-Johnson, founder of Authors' Coalition ( It is a free service offered to those who want to encourage the reading of books they love. That includes authors who want to share their favorite reviews and reviewers who'd like to see their reviews get more exposure and readers who want to shout out praise of books they've loved. Please see submission guidelines on the left of this page. Reviews and essays are indexed by author names, reviewer names, and review sites. Writers will find the index handy for gleaning the names of small publishers.

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