July 3, 2000
Lucy Ricardo had nothing on Nancy Stern, heroine of the latest madcap murder mystery from Heller (Sis Boom Bah). Like TV’s famously batty redhead, Nancy is easily dazzled by the glitz of show business — and she concocts some delightfully harebrained schemes to get a taste of the glamor. She even has an Ethel-like sidekick, a fellow preschool teacher who gets drawn into her pal’s increasingly risky capers, prompting a villain to tie her to the bathroom faucets and stuff a sock in her mouth.
But Nancy is also a thoroughly modern woman, a quick-witted thirtysomething divorcée with a well-developed sense of cynicism who lives on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. So when she sets out to impersonate a celebrity journalist in order to dine with the potential man of her dreams, the fallout is as much Sex and the City as I Love Lucy. Throw in a sinister scheme involving a notorious ring of diamond thieves, a sprinkling of clever plot twists and a dab of Space Goo (don’t ask) and you’ve got a rollicking and delectable — if soufflé — light-summer read.
Bottom Line: Saucy heroine and screwball plot add up to a romp
— LAURA JAMISON
Remarkable….Name Dropping is a ‘Jane Heller’ at her very best. Readers who enjoyed Sis Boom Bah are sure to love this masterfully written story by the great Ms. Heller.
June 18, 2000
Spirited and clever….Name Dropping is a tasty snack you’ll gobble up gladly.
Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
June 18, 2000<
Heller has concocted another delicious spun-sugar romance laced with suspense….Cute, romantic and amusing….This is summer and Heller fans are not looking for War and Peace. They will enjoy Name Dropping.
Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette
June 11, 2000
What makes Heller’s material engaging is her seemingly endless sense of humor, her knack for creating suspense that lures – rather than repels – readers, and her keen attention to character development. Name Dropping has all of those traits….A tale of adventure, intrigue, murder and hilarity that is seemless from beginning to end.
Dayton Daily News
June 10, 2000
Fluffy and light, funny and quick….Love and mystery are part of the tale, which is peppered with one-liners and the down-to-earth observations that have become Heller’s trademark.
June 4, 2000
Deliciously amusing….Heller, author of the popular Sis Boom Bah, has written another entertaining page-turner.
\June 4, 2000\
A charming New York entertainment. A nursery school teacher named Nancy Stern discovers that a glamorous celebrity interviewer – named Nancy Stern – has moved into her apartment building. The satire of New York yuppie pretension is trenchant; the new Italian restaurants all end in ‘either -luna or -luma.’ There’s a pin with a big yellow diamond, misunderstandings, murder and mayhem, all under the noses of the upwardly mobile nouveau riche parents who send their innocents to the ‘Small Blessings’ pre-school. Yet there are finer themes here about trust and risk, luck and caring.
>May 28, 2000
Jane Heller is feisty, funny, and fully in control in Name Dropping….It’s a great story with much wry comment.
May 25, 2000
Manhattan,that vibrating magnet for young women looking for big-city love, is the setting for Jane Heller’s meringue. Nancy Stern is an attractive, affectionate teacher in a wildly upscale preschool called Small Blessings. She actively likes children, even difficult, aggressive 4-year-old boys like her current pupil, Fischer Levin.
Her job also requires her to tolerate their odious, demanding, enormously rich parents. Capturing the overheated atmosphere at many yuppie preschools, the novel conveys the tension between parents who can donate entire libraries and teachers who have an eagle-eye view of their pint-sizemiscreants. As Nancy explains: “I’m not saying that all the parents are nutcases, but the ones who are, really are. And their nuttiness rubs off on their ‘trophy offspring.’ I mean, these are people who are intense about seeing their kid at Harvard.”
Nancy’s job is enhanced by her close friendship with her co-teacher, Janice. Alas, while Janice is sexually adventurous – “a veritable Energizer bunny” about men – Nancy is falling into a depressing rut after her marriage went sour several years ago.
Then another Nancy Stern moves into her apartment building, and the old Nancy finds herself with a peek into a glamorous celebrity journalist’s lifestyle because phone calls and deliveries keep getting misdirected. It’s flowers, multiple lovers, champagne in the afternoon, invitations to exclusive soirees. The old Nancy is dazzled and decides to try on the new Nancy’s identity for just one blind date.
The result, of course, is a charmingly improbable love story and involves lots of intrigue, the odd murder and a gang of jewel thieves. It’s a creamy éclair and taxes not one single brain cell.
April 1, 2000
Heller proves once again that she has breeziness down to an artful science. In her latest romantic suspense novel (after Sis Boom Bah), there’s another powerful premise as well as a quirkily humorous heroine to hang it on. Nancy Stern, self-described Brunette Who Keeps Her Head, is a teacher at Manhattan’s Small Blessings, a tony pre-school where ultrachic parents deposit their “trophy offspring.” Not completely satisfied with her lot in life, Nancy finds herself suffering from serious envy when a second Nancy Stern — who turns out to be a glamorous celebrity journalist — moves into her building and Nancy I begins to find $10,000 AmEx bills and invitations to private movie screenings in her mailbox and phone messages from ardent male admirers. Nancy I is intrigued, desperately wanting to learn if the grass is really greener; when she gets another misdirected phone call, this time from a man asking for a blind date, she decides to be Cinderella for one night and impersonate Nancy II. The blind date turns out to be the man of her dreams, but now that she’s told him so many creative untruths, how can she ever go straight? To complicate matters, Nancy II is soon murdered and Nancy I finds herself caught up in a new existence that’s even more exciting than she bargained for. Those without cause to take it personally will find it a treat to see Heller turn her culturally observant wit on certain parenting trends. There’s even a rollicking and appropriately themed “shoot-out” to go with the nursery school setting…. Readers will come for the fast pace and the fun, of which there’s plenty.
Reviewed by Kristin Kloberdanz
Lately, the most exciting thing in preschool-teacher Nancy Stern’s life is staying home with a good book. When she suddenly starts receiving invitations to White House galas and private film screenings with Harrison Ford, her ego is given a jolt until she realizes a much more glamorous Nancy stern, a sneering celebrity journalist, has just moved into the penthouse in her Manhattan building. When the “wrong” Nancy accepts a call from a potential blind date, she decides to pose as the writer. Soon she becomes ensnared in a murder mystery and a romance, which may or may not be the result of her mistaken identity. Heller, author of Sis Boom Bah, manages again to mold what could be a dark, twisted tale into a sharp, lighthearted story. Heller provides some genuinely shocking revelations concerning the mystery at hand in between jocular scenes that jab at modern dating rituals and in which witty repartee abounds, especially between the self-deprecating Nancy and her cocky best friend, serial-dater Janice.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Mary Mellett
Preschool teacher Nancy Stern learns the truth of the old adage “be careful what you wish for” in Heller’s very funny new novel. Our heroine realizes that she’s been in a bit of a rut when another woman named Nancy Stern moves into her building’s penthouse — and this new Nancy’s mail (from Kevin Costner), invitations (to a movie premiere with Harrison Ford), and dry cleaning (a mink coat) wind up being delivered to our Nancy, who rapidly comes to believe that she is the wrong Nancy. When teacher Nancy accepts a blind date meant for the other Nancy, things rapidly spiral out of control. Murder and mayhem follow, all in Heller’s trademark witty and entertaining style. Fans of Heller’s Sis Boom Bah will enjoy this clever tale.
I have a wonderful literary agent named Ellen Levine, and it was Ellen’s own story that provided the germ of the idea for this novel.
At my first meeting with her in her Manhattan office, I mentioned that I had known two other Ellen Levines. She said, “Oh, there are lots of us in New York, and we all get each other’s mail and phone calls.” She added that the editor-in-chief of Good Housekeeping was named Ellen Levine and that they were often invited to the same dinner parties and ended up with each other’s place cards by mistake.
I thought, what if two women with the same name lived in the same apartment building? Wouldn’t they get each other’s mail and phone calls? And, if so, what sorts of complications might that bring about?
Before long, I had fleshed out the plot for Name Dropping, in which the heroine, whose name is Nancy Stern, discovers that another woman named Nancy Stern has just moved into her apartment building. The story is about mix-ups — and murder. But it’s also about our desire to live vicariously through others, others we perceive to lead happier, more exciting lives, and the discovery that the grass may look greener but usually isn’t.
Published in June, 2000, Name Dropping was especially enjoyable to research. The heroine is a preschool teacher in NYC, and in order to find out what that profession is all about, I enlisted the help of my sister, Susan Alexander, who just happens to be a preschool teacher in NYC! She let me observe her class as she read to and sang to and played with the kids, and gave me lots of useful anecdotes. She loves her work and has handed that love down to her daughter, Elizabeth Alexander, who’s a preschool teacher in NYC too. In other words, Name Dropping was a family affair. Hope you have fun with it!
Optioned by Miramax for a feature film.
Read the First Chapter
When the invitation arrived in the mail, I assumed it was a joke. America’s ambassador to Great Britain was requesting the honour of my presence at a black tie reception at the United Nations?
Sure, and pip-pip to you too, I thought as I leaned against the tiny refrigerator in the tiny kitchen of my tiny apartment. What’s next? Afternoon tea with the queen?
I examined the invitation, running my hand over it, holding it up to the light, checking it for some indication of who might have sent it. All I could determine was that, yup, it was addressed to me — Nancy Stern, 137 East Seventy-first Street, New York, New York 10021– and that it did seem authentic with its bold, black-scripted letters, heavy, wedding-invitation-type card stock, and official-looking seal. But how could it be authentic?
I was hardly a regular on the international circuit, hardly a pal of America’s ambassador to Great Britain, hardly a pal of America’s ambassador to anyplace. I was a teacher at Small Blessings, a nursery school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. I spent my days, not with foreign diplomats discussing trade agreements, human rights, or weapons of mass destruction, but with pre-kindergarteners singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Moreover, the sort of diplomacy I practiced involved convincing four-year-olds that nose-picking, while not an inherently bad thing, is nevertheless a “poor choice” when socializing with others.
Me at a black tie reception at the U.N., I scoffed as I tossed the invitation into the garbage. The last party I went to was when Lindsay Greenblatt turned five and her mother brought cupcakes to school for the class’s snack.
Yeah, I’m a real party animal, I thought, mentally ticking off the more recent Saturday nights during which I’d stayed home with a good book rather than prowl the city’s trendy clubs looking for love. Please. Shortly after I’d gotten divorced and found myself back in circulation, it became abundantly clear that Mr. Wonderful wasn’t waiting for me on a strobe-lit dance floor. Call me old-fashioned but my idea of heaven isn’t a guy in a sweat-drenched tank top, bumping and grinding and hip-hopping to Puff Daddy Combs.
Not that I didn’t go out now and then, do the things typical single-women-in-their-thirties do. I attended other people’s weddings, spent the occasional weekend at somebody’s summer rental, dated friends of friends, you know how it works. Unfortunately, my special man never materialized no matter how often I ventured out, and so, little by little, I stopped venturing out. Perhaps I had no romance in my life because I wasn’t ready for a relationship. Perhaps I had no romance in my life because I was too picky, although it didn’t seem too much to ask that the man not pierce his nipples. Or perhaps, like millions of other unattached women, I had no romance in my life because of the phenomenon I associate with warehouses: Overstocked! Too Much Inventory! Surplus! Yes, perhaps, it was simply that there was a surplus of single women and I didn’t have the energy to fight the odds, unlike my best friend and associate teacher Janice Mason, a veritable Energizer bunny when it came to men.
That’s when it dawned on me: The invitation to the reception at the U.N. must be her handiwork!
A helium-balloon-voiced woman with pixie-short blond hair, a trim, athletic figure, and a go-for-it, try-anything, follow-your-bliss attitude toward life, Janice loved fooling around on her computer, loved experimenting with different fonts and formats, loved printing out phony documents — sweepstakes come-ons, letters from the IRS, you name it — and sending them to people as a goof. A real prankster, that Janice. Such a kidder.
She also loved flirting with men over the Internet, hoping her overheated E-mails would lead to equally overheated responses, which would lead to in-person encounters, which would lead to marriage proposals. (They never did.)
We spent a great deal of after-school time together, she and I, and were compatible in many important ways, but where I couldn’t care less about Web sites and chat rooms and dot com this and dot com that, Janice viewed her computer with the same sense of wonder as the kids in our class viewed their Pokemon paraphernalia. Yes, I decided. She mailed me the invitation. Ha-ha, Janice. Good one.
I confronted her at school the next morning while our sixteen young charges were crayoning pictures of turkeys in anticipation of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.
“I didn’t send it, Nancy,” she replied. “I couldn’t have sent it. My computer’s down.”
“Tell me something,” I said. “What’s so great about computers if they’re always down?”
“They’re not always down,” Janice said with conviction, “They run into problems every now and then, just like people do. What’s important here is that they’re our bridge to the rest of the human race, the linchpins of our intellectual infrastructure.”
Intellectual infrastructure. This from a woman I’d once caught eating Play-Doh.
“Well, somebody sent the invitation,” I said, getting back to the mysterious missive. “Do we know any jokesters besides you?”
“Forget jokesters. Maybe the invitation is on the level.”
“Yeah, and maybe I’m Madeleine Albright.”
“Okay, what about one of the other teachers, although none of them is a barrel of laughs.”
Janice was referring to Victoria Bittner, the head teacher of the other group of four-year-olds. A painter who couldn’t sell her paintings, Victoria took out her frustrations on the walls of her classroom, creating ridiculously over-the-top murals to tie in with each change of season. And then there was Nick Spada, the head teacher of one of the two groups of three-year-olds. Nick was a grad student at night, getting his masters in child psychology. He was much too busy, never mind deadly serious, to send jokey invitations to me or anyone else. And finally, there was Fran Golden, Nick’s counterpart as the head teacher of the other group of three-year-olds. Fran was as sweet as they come but a tad on the syrupy side. If you’re old enough to remember the teacher on Romper Room, you’ve got Fran to a tee. As for the assistant teachers who worked with Victoria, Nick, and Fran, they were just-out-of-college twentysomethings who spent their free time grousing about the low salaries they were earning in comparison to their friends who had chosen the corporate life.
“Of course, it’s possible that the invitation did come from the embassy but that their computer printed out the wrong name,” Janice added. “Why don’t you RSVP and see?”
I was about to explain that I had already chucked the invitation when I noticed that a scuffle had broken out between two of the children, Fischer Levin and Todd Delafield, over which of them was entitled to use the black crayon.
“Fischer! Todd! Over here, please!” I called out to them as Fischer was in the act of punching Todd in the stomach. “Right now! ” I was speaking in my authoritative, preschool teacher voice, the one that worked well with small boys but was less effective with grown men. (Ask my ex-husband.)
“I didn’t do anything, Miss Stern. Todd was coloring on the table instead of on the paper like you said to. I was just trying to take the black crayon away from him so he wouldn’t make a mess,” claimed Fischer, who was articulate for his age but a big fat liar.
I know that sounds uncharitable, but Fischer Levin was fat and he did lie. All the time. He was a troublemaker, very disruptive, and whenever he was disciplined, he’d make up a whopper in an effort to cast blame on someone else. I asked his parents to come in and discuss his behavior, but they were Mr. and Mrs. We-Made-a-Bundle-in-the-Market and were too busy living it up to perform such a trivial errand. Instead, they dispatched Olga, Fischer’s caregiver, who arrived for the conference in the same chauffeur-driven limo that transported Fischer to school every morning — a custom, silver Mercedes with POLO KING on its license plate. Olga was a plump, rosy-cheeked woman who had just joined the Levin household after immigrating from Latvia. She promised to convey my concerns to her employers, but cautioned me not to expect a response as she didn’t have much clout with them. “Dun’t forget, I am fourth or fifth nanny to Fischer in last six months,” she said, her accent thick with her native land. “Not a lot I can do for child in situation like dat, you know?”
I turned to Todd, and asked him to tell Fischer how it felt to be punched in the stomach and what Fischer might say to get things back on track between them. This is what nursery school teachers do in the modern era: practice couples therapy. Never mind that the couples are four years old. Our job is to encourage the participants to express their feelings, to understand the consequences of their actions, to verbalize.
“All I know is Fischer socked me in my tummy,” verbalized Todd, whose mother had given birth to twins the week before. Todd’s mommy, like several of the mommies of the kids at Small Blessings, was an older, career mommy who had taken fertility drugs to get pregnant. Her twins were only the most recent multiple births making news at school; in September, Gabriel Lester’s mother had produced triplets.
“Fischer,” I said, bending over to pat the boy’s curly brown head. “Did you hit Todd?”
“Fischer, what have we been learning about lying?”
“I’m not�” He reconsidered. “That we’re not supposed to.”
“Very good. What have we been learning about hitting?”
“That we’re not supposed to.”
“Right. Now, what have we been learning about being mean to the other children?”
“THAT WE’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO!”
“I can hear you, Fischer. The next time you have a problem with someone in the class, I want you to use words to tell the person how you feel deep inside.” I took Todd’s little hand and drew him toward his bullier. “So how about using words with Todd and telling him you’re sorry about what happened?”
Fischer’s response was to stick his tongue out at Todd.
“Well, Miss Mason,” I said to Janice, “I guess Fischer will have to sit in Time-out.” For the uninitiated, making a child sit in Time-out is the contemporary equivalent of making a child sit in the corner. In other words, Time-out is teacher-speak for punishment, but we don’t use the “P” word anymore. Too negative.
“Fischer, go sit in Time-out and think about how you could have handled the crayon situation differently,” said Janice, pointing him in the direction of the group of empty chairs next to a poster of a Tyrannosaurus rex.
“Okay, but if you keep making me sit in Time-out, my dad will sue you,” Fischer threatened as he marched away.
Janice looked at me and smirked. “Better get on the phone to a lawyer, huh?”
I laughed, shrugging. For all I knew, Fischer’s father would sue. Small Blessings is an exclusive preschool that attracts the sort of parents who think being able to afford a hefty tuition entitles them to act like maniacs — litigious maniacs. For example, Tyler Snelling’s parents sued the school because Janice and I permitted their son to prance around in a ballet tutu during costume play. (Their lawsuit accused us of “trying to turn him gay.”) Emily Oberman’s parents sued because Benjamin Weeks kissed Emily while they were swinging on the monkey bars. (They claimed we were promoting a climate of sexual harrassment.) And Samantha Klein’s parents sued because their daughter got head lice. (Their lawsuit mentioned the utter humiliation associated with having to hire a professional nitpicker.)
I’m not saying that all the parents are nutcases, but the ones who are, really are, and their nuttiness rubs off on their “trophy offspring.” I mean, these are people who are intense about seeing their kid at Harvard. They truly believe that once the little darling is accepted at Small Blessings, the rest is gravy. In their minds, getting into the right preschool guarantees admission to the right private school which guarantees admission to the right college, provided the kid doesn’t do something stupid — like have ideas of his own. As a teacher, I always tried, as diplomatically as possible, to discourage them from projecting so far into the future; to stop putting pressure on their child and, instead, focus on his day-to-day accomplishments. Sometimes, I was successful; sometimes, not.
Fischer Levin sat in Time-out and Todd Delafield went back to coloring his turkey. A few minutes later, Fischer trudged over to Todd and apologized for the crayon incident. A few minutes after that, he invited Todd to his apartment for an after-school playdate. Todd responded by holding his stomach and claiming he didn’t feel well enough to spend the afternoon at Fischer’s, even after I said I’d call both of their caregivers to get permission.
“Come on, Todd. You’ll have fun,” I coaxed, not wanting Fischer’s act of contrition to go unrewarded. “Fischer did a brave thing by telling you he was sorry he hit you.”
Todd shook his head, his lower hp beginning to quiver. “My tummy hurted before he hit me. It hurted me before I came to school.
I held Todd in my arms, rubbed his back soothingly. “I think I see the problem, honey. It’s hard for you at home, with the two new babies around.” I assumed his stomach ache was really an ache for his mother’s attention, that he was merely feeling eclipsed by the twins. “Remember that you’re the big boy in the family now, Todd, and your mommy’s so proud of how well you’re doing in school. Just wait until she sees the turkey you’re coloring for Thanks–”
Before I could conclude my speech, Todd threw up in my lap.
“And people think this is a glamour job,” I said to Janice as I hurried Todd and my puke-soaked self to the bathroom.
After I’d returned home from school that afternoon, hopped out of my stinky clothes, and showered and changed, I sorted through my mail. There, amidst the bills and magazines and catalogs promoting products for the house and garden, was yet another invitation addressed to Nancy Stern at 137 East Seventy-first Street.
This one — are you ready? — requested the pleasure of my company at a private screening of the new Harrison Ford movie, followed by champagne and a light supper. At the director’s apartment in Sutton Place, no less.
What in the world is going on? I wondered, genuinely bewildered now. Why am I suddenly on the guest lists of people who don’t even know I exist? Or do they?
I shook my head as I reread the invitation and then indulged in a brief fantasy, imagining myself actually attending the screening, mingling with the glittering Hollywood set, bewitching them with witty and clever anecdotes about my oh-so-fascinating life as a nursery school teacher.
I sighed as I put the invitation aside for the moment and opened the rest of the mail.
And then I received another jolt: my American Express bill. According to the invoice, my tab for October was $10,560, which was pretty steep considering that the only item I’d put on my card that month was the fifty bucks I’d spent on plants hoping to perk up my dreary apartment.
I stood, open-mouthed, as I ran down the list of charges. The round-trip ticket to London. The hotel bill from the Savoy. The round-trip ticket to L.A. The hotel bill from the Bel Air. There were other goodies — dinners at New York’s hippest restaurants, merchandise from Madison Avenue boutiques, visits to some hair salon I’d never heard of, let alone been to — but the trips to London and Los Angeles were what really jumped out at me. Could they be linked to the invitations from the ambassador to Great Britain and the Hollywood movie director? And if so, how?
I went back over all the charges, then checked the remittance slip yet again. As before, I verified that my name and address were correct. But this time, I noticed that the account number wasn’t mine.
Ah-ha, I thought. What’s going on here isn’t a joke or an intrigue. It’s a mistake. A clerical error.
I called American Express to report the mix-up and was informed that there was a simple explanation behind it. Another woman named Nancy Stern had recently moved into my building and her mail must have been placed inadvertently in my mailbox. The customer service representative apologized for the error and promised to advise the other Nancy Stern to include her apartment number in her address in order to avoid this type of confusion.
The other Nancy Stern, I mused after I hung up. A Nancy Stern who’s chummy with ambassadors and movie stars, apparently. A Nancy Stern who travels, shops, dines fine. A Nancy Stern who, according to the American Express lady, lives in 24A, on the rarified penthouse floor of the building, not in 6J, on my thoroughly average floor. A Nancy Stern who, I’d be willing to bet, doesn’t regularly get vomited upon by four-year-olds.
Yes, there was a simple explanation for the invitations and the $10,000 charge card bill that had appeared in my mailbox. The trouble is, simple explanations often obscure the complicated situations to follow. At least, that was the case with me.
Two women with the same name living in the same Manhattan apartment building? It could happen — and does — in Jane Heller’s seventh novel, a breezy summer read as clever as it is comic!Preschool teacher Nancy Stern is in a personal and professional rut. But what really puts a dent in her self-esteem is the realization that another woman named Nancy Stern has just moved into her building … a Nancy Stern who lives in the penthouse … a Nancy Stern who interviews celebrities for glossy magazines … a Nancy Stern who’s chummy with Harrison Ford. Nancy’s loss of her own specialness deepens as she keeps getting the other, more glamorous Nancy’s mail, phone calls and party invitations by mistake. It’s all too much to bear — until a man calls one night, intending to ask the other Nancy out on a blind date. In a moment of madness, Nursery School Nancy accepts, and what follows is a raucous tale of mix-ups, murder and mistaken identity. Leave it to the wickedly witty Jane Heller to come up with a story of a woman whose humdrum life turns out to be anything but.