The New Yorker contributor Schulman applies his sharp, flouncy style to an origin story of superactress Meryl Streep. Written without the 19-time Oscar nominee’s participation (but with the help of more than 80 of her friends, colleagues, and still-fawning college boyfriends), the book’s narrow focus on Streep’s early life and drama-school days will not satisfy fans hungry for stories from Sophie’s Choice or The Devil Wears Prada. And the first hundred pages, in fact, read like a timeline of every college play in which the popular young blonde appeared. Only the occasional outré anecdote alters our view of Streep, such as one where she pantomimed performing an abortion on herself in an acting class.
The book comes fully alive in its second half, gaining momentum as Schulman approaches his lacerating final chapter, which chronicles the making of 1979’s Oscar-winning Kramer vs. Kramer. At the time, Streep—handpicked by Dustin Hoffman to play his unstable wife—was “emotionally blitzed” by the death of her lover, the tender Godfather actor John Cazale. But according to numerous sources, the set turned into “Streep vs. Hoffman,” with the infamously thorough Method actor verbally and physically abusing Streep while filming the drama. As you’ll learn, he did so at his own peril. B+