For Suburban Housewife Susan Isaacs, Paradise (almost) Is Having a Best-Seller
For your average housewife with a husband, two children, a dog, a cat and a house in suburbia, that's not almost paradise, it's cloud nine. Isaacs, when she isn't writing about Hollywood, high finance or other glamorous topics, is busy chauffering the kids and getting tennis rackets restrung.
Her Almost Paradise heroine, however, is a very different breed. At the outset of the novel, Jane Cobleigh, a popular talk show hostess, flies to London to reclaim the affections of her actor husband, Nicholas, a dazzling creature no woman can resist. But before she can reach him (see box), Jane is hit by a car and goes into a coma. Flashbacks then recount the family traumas and the love story between Jane and Nicholas. Along the way there is incest, agoraphobia and plain old lust. Hence some critics have accused Isaacs of selling out. The author merely shrugs and says, "It's the best writing I've done."
Her previous novels, Compromising Positions, and Close Relations, were both small in scope and gently mocked Jewish family life. With Almost Paradise, however, Isaacs has written a huge, multilayered saga. "The voice was no longer close to my own," says Isaacs. "It was of someone taller and thinner and with straight hair. At first, I feared people would say, 'What are you doing? Go back to Queens!' "
That is where Isaacs was raised, the only child of an engineer and a housewife. Growing up in a world where women became teachers "because you could always go back to it and put your husband through medical school," Susan never considered a writing career. But after leaving Queens College in her fourth year, she landed a job at Seventeen in 1967 and later became a senior editor.
Meanwhile, well-meaning family members decided that it was time Susan met a man, specifically a nice young lawyer named Elkan Abramowitz, now 44. They wed in 1968, and Isaacs later quit her job to raise their children, Andrew, now 13, and Betsy, 10, and to care for their three-bedroom, split-level Manhasset, Long Island home. Gradually, however, she realized that "I had no place to go except nursery school." So she decided to write a novel. Paralyzed by the thought, Isaacs procrastinated. "I would spend all day at department stores buying socks for my son," she says. But in 1979 Compromising Positions appeared and was heralded by reviewers. Last summer, Isaacs and director Frank (David and Lisa) Perry collaborated on the screenplay, and they hope to produce it soon.
For her next literary endeavor, Isaacs is already plotting a novel about a one-sided love affair. Susan doesn't plan to start writing, however, until the fall, after she has gotten the kids through summer camp. Isaacs might also devote some time to her other interests: cooking, needlepoint and "bopping," as she puts it, around with her Sony Walkman. This time, however, a newly confident Isaacs isn't merely procrastinating. "I'm comfortable enough about my writing ability now to know that it's not going to go away," says an author who figures that paradise, once gained, can't be lost.