Not long ago, I had an opportunity to meet Dani Shapiro, author of five novels, who just released a memoir called Devotion. The new book is actually her second memoir. Her first, called Slow Motion—A Memoir of a Life Rescued by Tragedy, describes circumstances that Lovefraud readers will find disturbingly familiar.
When Shapiro was a college student in the early 1980s, she was seduced by her best friend’s stepfather. The man, named “Lenny Klein” in Slow Motion (a pseudonym), was a famous, wealthy and aggressive New York City attorney. Shapiro was a beautiful, blond 20-something who, because of him, lost her way.
Lenny Klein felt entitled to take what he wanted. He was a middle-aged married man who wanted a hot young thing on his arm. He took Dani Shapiro.
She dropped out of college, supposedly to pursue an acting career. In reality, she was Lenny Klein’s mistress. He set her up in an apartment. He bought her furs, diamonds and cars. She coped with her loss of self through alcohol and cocaine.
Then came the tragedy—Shapiro’s parents were in a terrible car accident. Suddenly, Shapiro was caring for them, which gave her another reason to live.
Appropriation of her life
Shapiro does not label Lenny Klein’s behavior—the most she says about him is that he is a “pathological liar.” But Lovefraud readers will recognize the symptoms: Preoccupation with power. Rage over insignificant incidents. Inability to think about the woman he supposedly loves, even when she faces catastrophe.
What Shapiro does really well in this book is relate how Lenny Klein’s appropriation of her life affected her.
I am playing house with Lenny, zigzagging across the country at his beck and call. I have something resembling a career, halfheartedly modeling and doing television commercials. For the moment, I think I want to be an actress. I dropped out of college three years ago after being cast in a York Peppermint Patties commercial, and now I feel that I’m stuck with it—acting and Lenny—as if, having taken a wrong turn, I have had to make a commitment to follow this road wherever it takes me. Retracing my steps has not felt like an option. I have run faster and faster in the wrong direction, eyes squeezed shut, hoping that somewhere along the way the road will loop around again.
How many of us know the sensation of rushing headlong in the wrong direction, with no escape in sight?
Shapiro describes other troubles in her life, such as feuding relatives. But mostly this is a story of being led into the abyss by a manipulative, self-centered individual; wallowing in despair; and then slowly finding the strength within herself to climb out of the hole.
It’s a story of redemption and revelation that those of us who really know what Dani Shapiro is talking about will find encouraging.
Slow Motion—A Memoir of a Life Rescued By Tragedy is available on Amazon.com.