Your favorite celebrity memoir was most likely written by a ghostwriter, an author who anonymously pens books for others (often famous folks) to publish under their own names. Taking a bunch of garbled notes from a celeb and writing up something legible is interesting work, to say the least.
Ghostwriters have to be adaptable and discreet about their clients. This hasn’t been a problem for ghostwriter Allie Lang, a single mom in suburban New England who is the main character in Heidi Pitlor’s Impersonation. Or rather, adaptability and discretion haven’t been a problem for Allie before—until she is hired to ghostwrite a book for famous activist Lana Breban about raising a feminist son.
Allie admires her ballsy new client, and adopting the voice of a trailblazing feminist comes naturally to her. Allie wants to raise a feminist son, too. Yet it becomes clear over time that the two women are not fighting the same battles. In fact, they might not even be fighting on the same battlefield. Lana has a financially generous book deal, an assistant and Hollywood pals on speed dial. Furthermore, she’s spent little to no time actually raising her son. She has a nanny for that.
Pitlor’s genius is that Impersonation doesn’t resort to pitting two women against each other. One woman’s career is circumscribed by care work, and the other’s career is not. But when Allie laments that “integrity—and real feminism—were clearly for people more financially secure than I,” it’s apparent that the issues between this ghostwriter and her client are emblematic of so much more. Impersonation isn’t just a critique of the “white feminism” of privileged women who prioritize money and success in existing power structures. It’s also more than a critique of the publishing industry, which only cares that Lana seems “maternal” enough to sell parenting books. Impersonation is a critique of our society’s fragile social safety net for so many vulnerable women, full of satirical humor and a lot of harsh truths.