Jenefer Shute User I.D.

ISBN 13: 9780618539062

User I.D.

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9780618539062: User I.D.
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Coursing with mordant wit and fierce intelligence, User ID is an elegant, utterly absorbing examination of the mutual obsession between an identity thief and her mark. Charlene Cummins, who sells cosmetics at an LA drugstore, is desperate for the better life she knows is out there for the taking. Vera de Sica, underachieving resident of Manhattan and (sort of) professor of English, is the woman whose identity she purloins. Nothing has been going right for Vera since she arrived in Los Angeles to deliver a speech at a conference: she has felt unappreciated (her presentation was sparsely attended), slightly dazed (there's too much light in the City of Angels), and disoriented (the freeways make her nervous). Now all she needs to do is return her rental car before heading back to New York. But when a heavily sweating man in a short-sleeved white shirt tells her to leave the car--and, as it happens, her personal effects--under a sign that reads Guest Parking,” Vera's true nightmare begins.
Based on more than three years of research into the fastest-growing white-collar crime in America, User ID is the incredibly compelling story of what happens when Vera's identity goes AWOL, co-opted by Charlene, the ambivalent girlfriend of the perspiring scam artist.
In this deft and mesmerizing character study of two women, who, on the face of it, could not lead more disparate lives (and yet share the same dissatisfaction with their lot), Jenefer Shute brilliantly explores the psychology of both victim and victimizer, as each woman develops an intense fantasy relationship with her other, imagined self. In alternating chapters that read like a thriller, Shute draws the reader into the bizarre and unsettling world where identities are multiple and mutable, and, ultimately, for sale. Unexpected, smart, and troubling, User ID is both a terrific read and a trenchant look at the philosophical implications of our networked world.

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About the Author:

JENEFER SHUTE, a native of South Africa, is the author of three previous novels: Life-Size, Sex Crimes, and Free Fall. User I.D., her latest novel, is based on over three years of research on identity theft, the fastest-growing white-collar crime in America. Her journalism has appeared in Salon, Harper’s Magazine, Tikkun, Allure, and the Boston Globe. She teaches writing and literature at Hunter College in New York City. Shute lives in Ancramdale, New York.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

After about twenty minutes, a young policewoman showed up, accompanied by a soundtrack of radio squawks and static. She was short and plump, and walked with an awkward, duck-like gait, encumbered by the arsenal of objects suspended from her belt. She also looked absurdly young: this must be the shit work they assign to the rookies, Vera thought, going down to the Avis agency on a Tuesday morning to take a car-theft report.
Mornin’, ma’am,” chirped the recruit, as if on a social call. She plopped herself across from Vera, legs planted apart.
Morning,” Vera replied, warily. She had hoped for a little more gravitas from the LAPD. And she hated to be called ma’am: it made her feel middle-aged which, she supposed, she was.
The secretary brought the cop a Diet Coke, which she popped gratefully, blotting the condensation from the can on her uniform sleeve. (Where’s my Coke, Vera thought peevishly, I who have been sitting here for half an hour, after an enervating, not to say traumatic, experience?) Then, with both elbows on the desk and half an ear on the constant unintelligible crackling of her radio, the policewoman got down to business, filling out her form.
It soon became clear that Vera was not the injured party in this situation, not even a player. The issue was between the con artist and Avis, or, more precisely, Avis’s insurance company. Vera, in legal terms, was not the victim. (Then why, she won- dered, do I feel like one?) She was not even the character in the detective story who, combing her memory for significant details, has to describe the event. The cop took her name and address Vera de Sica, 211 East Second Street, New York but didn’t ask for a narrative of what had happened. Vera felt cheated, as she had been rehearsing this very narrative in her mind and was now on the fourth or fifth draft, a model, in her opinion, of clarity and economy. Nor did the young woman even ask for a description of the suspect, which Vera had also been rehearsing, and which she provided anyway, using the lingo of TV cop shows Caucasian male, mid- to late thirties, five eight to five ten, average weight, belly, baldish, well spoken, short-sleeved white shirt, no obvious scars or tattoos. She couldn’t remember the color of his eyes. This bothered her. But the cop wasn’t writing any of it down anyway: there was no place on the form for description of perp.
Although she felt robbed of her star-witness moment, Vera did establish, to her immense relief, that she wasn’t liable for anything that she’d have to pay the rental fee, two days’ worth, nothing more. She didn’t really understand this she had, after all, personally handed the car over to a thief, thoughtfully leaving the keys in the ignition for him but she wasn’t going to complain. After the policewoman left, Vera gave her credit card to the secretary, who returned with a receipt and a paid-up copy of the rental agreement. Being cautious by nature, Vera asked for a written statement from Avis, signed by Mr. Manager or Mr. Security Guy, confirming that she owed them nothing. That she was guilty of nothing. Liable for nothing no damage, no loss. She knew that, legally, the statement was probably on a par with a pawprint from her cat, but it made her feel better, like a doctor’s note, a clean bill of health.
She got the statement two lines and that was that. No one, she realized, wanted to hear her story. Nobody seemed surprised that she had been conned, or incensed by the con. No one even cared to know that she was in fact a sophisticated, street-smart New Yorker and that this was not the kind of thing that usually happened to her. Usually? Ever!
Leaving the cubicle at last, she felt angry. With the crook, with Avis, with herself. She felt humiliated. She still felt vaguely guilty.
She wouldn’t tell anyone, she decided. She wouldn’t tell Colin. She wouldn’t tell Helena, even though Helena had got herself involved in some pyramid scheme a few years back and lost several hundred bucks. She wouldn’t even tell Simone, her shrink. What for? This would remain a secret, strictly between the con man and herself.
For the moment, she channeled her energy, her sense of outrage, into getting Avis to take her to the airport on time. The next shuttle, in fifteen minutes, just wouldn’t do, she told the secretary. She needed to leave now. This instant. There was some phoning back and forth (the secretary, a quiet middle-aged woman, proving, after all, wearily sympathetic), and then Vera was instructed to take her things downstairs and wait for the bus a whole shuttle, just for her. They would ride in state to LAX,Vera and her bag.
As the shuttle pulled out of the Avis lot onto Sepulveda, she noticed that there werre now uniformed security guards at every gate, waving hesitant motorists towards the correct entrance. Sure, she thought, now they’rrrrre out there, in force. She tried to tell her story to the driver, a handsome young Latino, but his English wasn’t up to the task, or so he made out. Otherwise, he was friendly and smiley and bursting with life; he handed her down to the curb with a chivalrous air.
She made her flight without difficulty, even with time to spare. She was the type of person who, in order never to be late, was always early, always killing the odd twenty minutes or so before an appointment. So, even after an encounter with a con artist and a cop, even after the bizarre detour her day had taken, she’d still failed to be late, arriving at the gate with plenty of time to buy a New York Times, a Vanity Fair (a guilty pleasure, only on planes), and an overpriced bottle of water with a made-up Scandinavian name. As her flight was called, it was almost as if nothing had happened, just a slight diversion on the way to LAX.
But when, finally, she tilted back her seat in the loud, stale air of the cabin, gave the evil eye to her neighbor, a middle-management type who’d claimed the armrest as his God-given right, and tried to focus on the spring fashions (Vanity Fair thought it was April already), she found that her mind was still roiling, wouldn’t let go.
The entire visit, she thought, had been a bit of a letdown. The conference had been even more third-rate than Vera had anticipated, sparsely attended even by the usual suspects, the ones who showed up, like her, at all the third-rate conferences and gave, like her, their third-rate papers. Her brief and highly speculative paper on second-language acquisition among torture victims, based on a sample of four at Brooklyn Multitech, where she taught, had been received with the indifference it probably deserved. She’d wanted to tell these people’s stories Haxhi and Nomsa and Carlos and Jean- Claude but not through tabulations of syntax over time.
After the conference she’d drunk chardonnay from a plastic cup with people with whom she could have drunk chardonnay from a plastic cup in New York, then had dinner in Santa Monica with her old friend Lynn from graduate school, who’d wanted to talk of nothing but her dissolving marriage (her third), which had made Vera reflect, nervously, on the ever precarious situation between Colin and herself. Then, predictably, she’d got lost driving the glittering freeways back to the Biltmore, where her conference-rate room faced into an airshaft and the enormous bed made her feel lonely and small, as if she might roll right off it and into the void. And since the college was contributing only a pittance in travel funds towards this excursion, she was also worrying, subliminally, and, at times, liminally, about how much this was all costing her.
And then, on top of it all, to be conned, to be scammed, to be taken for such a sucker.
Guest Parking, no uniform, bizarre body language, sweating like a pig, unlikely system for returning rental cars it was all so obvious, in retrospect. She’d been a fool, that was all, just plain naive. That was what hurt. This wasn’t how she saw herself, never had. She lived in New York, after all: she was as skeptical and savvy as they came. No telephone salesman ever got further than three words into his spiel with her. No street-corner con artist ever tried to hustle her: he’d take one look at her, her stride, her frown, her distrustful air, and wait for the next mark to come along. She was wise to all this, all these scams and scammers, from the humble junkie in the East Village, peddling the stuff he’d ripped off on the very block where he’d stolen it, to the corporate data miners and niche marketers, with their mailing lists and discount cards and pop-up windows, their cookies and credit reports and extended warranties, purloining everyone’s privacy, bit by bit.
And yet, she’d been had. While she’d been out of her element in a car, in California, in the dazzling light someone had taken advantage of her. Taken her for a ride, she thought or rather, taken himself for a ride, at her expense. She felt enraged, and at the same time ashamed. Guilty. Foolish. Violated. As the plane groaned, tucking its various parts away, Vera stared out the window at the disappearing yellowish smudge of the San Fernando Valley and understood that, while technically she might not be the victim, something had, nevertheless, been stolen from her.

Copyright © 2005 by Jenefer Shute. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

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