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Book Review: "Name Dropping"

Filed under: Clips

Identity switching is the name of clever game in `Dropping’

By Emily Gordon


Thursday, July 20, 2000

Name Dropping. By Jane Heller. St. Martin’s. 327 pages. $24.95.

If you’ve ever cyberstalked yourself, you know how unsettling it can be to discover all the people who share your name. Such is the sticky situation involving the heroine of Jane Heller’s “Name Dropping,” a Regular Gal in New York City who discovers that right in her building there is an Un-Regular Gal with, you guessed it, the same name.

Nancy Stern, Ms. Ordinary, is a divorced, 30-something teacher who tends overprivileged, underloved children at the Small Blessings nursery school; she spends her days “convincing four-year-olds that nose-picking, while not an inherently bad thing, is nevertheless a poor choice when socializing with others.” She and her best friend, fellow teacher Janice, fret about singlehood and surf the Web together. She lives in 6J.

The other Nancy Stern, by contrast, is a veritable Holly Golightly, juggling lovers, freshly dry-cleaned furs and invitations to the U.N., private screenings with Harrison Ford and the like. She is a freelance writer, which as we all know is a very glamorous job. She lives in the penthouse — 24A. Understandably, their mail keeps getting mixed up, and soon enough Ms. Ordinary is trotting up to 24J with stuff for Ms. Fancypants (a dozen roses from “Jacques,” $10,000 Visa bills, personal notes from Kevin Costner, Prozac). Our Nancy is at first irritated, then increasingly fascinated with her neighbor’s glamorous life.

The interest isn’t returned. Freelancer Nancy, resplendent in white cashmere and leather gloves, is quite a sourpatch: She says condescending things to her namesake, such as “You’re quite the competent little message taker… . How’d you like to be my executive secretary for a living instead of baby-sitting people’s brats?” How rude!

But soon Ms. Fancypants is more than rude — she’s dead. As police scour the building for clues to the brutal killing, “the lesser of the two Nancy Sterns” is riddled with confusion and worry. She didn’t just fantasize about the other Nancy’s existence; she actually wriggled herself into it, by accepting a blind date from a man who’d called for the Nancy in 24A.

The man, Bill Harris, turns out to be a serious catch: He’s tall, sexy, works as a manager at a high-class jewelry store, loves his two kids and concedes that “men can be louses.” But the more attached they become, the more our Nancy realizes the sham is unfair to Bill, who’s from a family of cops and treasures honesty above all else. She ends the romance, leaving both of them heartbroken. Then Upstairs Nancy gets bumped off, and our Nancy freaks out: Once Bill reads the newspapers, he’ll know what a weirdo she is, and hate her even more.

That doesn’t happen, though. I won’t reveal any more of the ensuing hair-raising plot, except that it involves jewel scams, steamy scenes, Home Depot, a Latvian nanny, pirates, a detective named Burt Reynolds and sly digs at author Sue Grafton.

Florida resident Heller makes some funny big-city gaffes and her style veers from spirited and clever to overly familiar. But “Name Dropping” is a tasty snack you’ll gobble up.

(This story was originally published in a somewhat different form.)

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