Forty years ago, Gail Parent wrote a groundbreaking novel on what was at the time a fairly unexplored topic: the single woman. The book, “Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York,” completed over a period of a year and a half while Parent was simultaneously writing for “The Carol Burnett Show,” is a darkly comic story told in the form of a suicide note from an unhappily unwed Sheila Levine.
The novel, which paved the way for much of what we know today as chick lit, was a huge success at the time. But now, despite being a forebear of the genre, it has been forgotten by many readers and scholars.
Upon its release in 1972, The New York Times praised Parent’s “blend of pragmatic observation and one-line gags” as “an illuminating mixture,” and in 1975 the book was turned into a movie starring the go-to 1970s frumpy Jewish gal Jeannie Berlin. The film was panned, but Parent, who would eventually go on to write for such TV shows as “Rhoda,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “The Golden Girls,” also developed a pilot for CBS based on the book.
But over the past 40 years, the novel has faded from popular culture. Ms. Levine is barely known to those under the age of 50, and it is hard to find much online about the book. Still, “Sheila Levine” was groundbreaking and influential in its exploration of the struggles of the single woman, and was indeed a forerunner to books by popular chick lit authors like Jennifer Weiner and Susan Isaacs.
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