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Emma Who Saved My Life

3.74  ·  Rating Details  ·  410 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews

A big, funny, engaging, unsentimental and sometimes even wise book...Delightful."—New York Post

Author of Lookaway, Lookaway

Wilton Barnhardt's novel of coming of age in New York City brims with energy, surprise, irresistible humor, and the heady rush of youth. Its hero, Gil Freeman, a midwestern aspiring actor, comes to the city in search of stardom—but instead enco
ebook, 496 pages
Published July 2nd 2013 by Picador (first published 1989)
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Jul 11, 2015 Allan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm a sucker for novels set in NYC, so this book,featured in The Guardian's 'Best Books on NYCReaders' Picks' was always going to be right up my street.

Featuring Midwestern native and aspiring actorGilFreeman's ten years in the city, starting in 1974, this novel was different from others that I've read set at the same time, thanks to its constant tongue in cheek humour. TheNYC portrayedis still grimy and dangerous, but rather than denigratethe place, the author clearly loves the city, and uses t
Dec 12, 2009 Julie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
so - here's the story with this one. I'm on a trip from hell with my now ex-husband and his german dad, French step-mom and their two little kids (dad started a second family in his 50's). We lived in Germany at the time and we took a three week trip to america where i was to be the tour guide. Would have been - but no one listened to me so among camping with six to a tent and very long car rides.. ick - it was not fun. But the way to escape? READ! So - when I finished Cider House Rules - we we ...more
Aug 17, 2008 Patrick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Any time I find this book selling for cheap, I buy it. I now have a mass market paperback, two trade paperbacks, a hardcover first edition and an advance reader's copy. I tell myself it's so I can give a copy to the next person I think will enjoy it, but who am I kidding - they're all for me.

This is an intimate epic. The story has the sweep of ten years and wonderfully examines the moments within them. It made me laugh, wince, cheer. I'm sorry I never met the people within the pages, and glad th
Jon Jon
Apr 17, 2008 Jon Jon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book saved my life. I remember pulling it out of a box of books addressed to "Any Soldier" during the 1st Gulf War. The portrayal of NYC in the wild 70s was a thrilling romp and a ton of fun.

The unrequited love story appealed to the Romantic in me and made me long for a day I could enjoy a life like Gil's.
J.D. Field
Jun 11, 2011 J.D. Field rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Once I lived in new York and was very poor indeed. I used to stop at Barnes and Nobles on 6th Avenue on my way home and read this bit by bit. To me it completely represents my New York experience...
Mar 22, 2014 Mollie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book took me a while to get into. I started it several months ago, put it down, and didn't miss it. But I finally picked it back up and finished it. And really? Not much to write about. It's one of these books that doesn't really go anywhere - it's more of a chronological retelling of this guy Gil's life than a real novel. There's no arc, it's just narrative: this happened, and then this, and then this. And, its worst offense? The NYC obsession. I complain about this every chance I get: the ...more
Lynn Demarest
Feb 18, 2013 Lynn Demarest rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book, a coming-of-age story that ends not with triumph but with a reassessment of the initial dream when it's partially realized.

"Emma" is carefully written and deeply imagined. It reads, in fact, like the memoir of an aspiring actor's decade in New York City, where he encounters dirt-poor bohemians, street thugs, ethnic immigrants, and a crazy poet named Emma Gennaro, who bounces in and out of Bellevue.

A few remarks :

1) I was sorry to see crazy Susan tossed aside, like trash into
Aug 01, 2008 Margaret rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: theatre
A dead-on, hugely funny novel about a young Midwestern man who comes to NY in the mid-70s to be an actor and the infuriating, entrancing young woman who takes him under her unreliable wing. I've rarely laughed out loud so often over a book. It has some echoes of BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S in its straight-arrow narrator and the enticing eccentric he adores, and also in its incisive skewering of the (in this case) theatrical subset of NY society. A must read for anyone who has been, is, or will be an ...more
Nov 14, 2013 Brian rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I couldn't finish it; it was tediously self-indulgent and irritating.

If Emma ever ended saving the narrator's life, good for her; I lost interest halfway through.
Dec 02, 2010 Aaron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sep 01, 2014 MLV rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved this book in my late 20s. The fact that I still had this book in my shelves,which means it survived multiple moves and callings, means I would have rated it five stars back then. Now that seemingly everyone of all ages speaks/writes in this casual, meant to be clever, snappy repartee, it was tiresome at times and not nearly as engaging. I still like the story and it kept me turning the page at least.
Feb 02, 2014 Jenny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book for so many reasons, but especially because it involves theatre and New York. I loved reading about pre-gentrified NYC.
Mar 24, 2013 Marc rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
People of the world, read this book! The writing is colorful and rich. The characters jump off the page and instantly become your friends (although some you might not want). It's rare that a novel makes me laugh out loud like this one did and it happened numerous times. The story is about a young man struggling to make it as an actor on off off Broadway in late seventies/early eighties New York...and failing miserably. This could have easily been played for saccharine and nostalgic melodrama but ...more
Christopher Farrell
While I enjoyed the almost frenzied pace of this book, part of me wished it had calmed down at some point. Gil is a good narrator but his infatuation with Emma seemed almost silly to me at some times. This book is a love story to New York, but sadly doesn't make the love between its characters seem real.
Mar 14, 2015 Lisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was interesting at times and fairly comical on and off. This took me longer than most books to get through and I'm not sure why, I think the storyline didn't really grab me. Gil's adventures were entertaining but his infatuation with Emma got old pretty quickly.
1990 Jul 06
2000 Mar 16
Oct 05, 2013 Martha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: e-book
Wilton Barnhardt has a genius for the comic novel. This was very funny and was really enjoyable, though not quite as much as Lookaway, Lookaway. Gil Freeman is an aspiring actor in New York who has two female roommates, Lisa and Emma. He falls for the beautiful, difficult Emma and carries the torch for her for many years. Their final breakup scene is just classic and laugh-out-loud funny.

After ten years as a struggling actor, Gil finally packs it in after realizing that he is never going to be g
Marty Greenwell
Oct 13, 2013 Marty Greenwell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lisa has had this on the bookshelf forever. Finally decided to read it. A book of Gil, from Chicago, who goes to NY to become an actor. The stories of Gil and others, especially Emma, give the scene of young people in an environment where life is fun but hard in arenas where only the superstars succeed ( acting and writing ). Emma is a character who is flawed but has the qualities that attract not just Gil but others but also drain you after years of chaos. Liked this book a lot....
Mar 15, 2012 Laurel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Laurel by: Mathew
Shelves: novel, fiction, historical
The concept is fairly run of the mill, almost boring in summary: naive young Midwestern kid moves to NYC in search of women and fame, etc. What stands out about this book is not the plot, but the execution. Very nice, smooth writing that works in lots of complex but believable emotion without being maudlin. I think my hope for a different ending was a personal bias. All in all, quite enjoyable and different from what I usually read. Thanks, Mat!
C.K. Martin
Jan 31, 2013 C.K. Martin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was absolutely crazy about this book in the late 80's and early 90's and reread it in 08 to see if it was as good as I remembered. Everything I'd loved about it - Gil's love affair with NYC, his infatuation with Emma, an overall feeling of hopefulness and youth - was as fresh as ever. I'm sure I'll read this book in another five, ten, fifteen years and still feel the same way I did about it when I first read it in 1989.
May 01, 2013 Niffer rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, drama
This is one of those books I picked up mostly based on the title and somewhat because it was outside of my normal reading genre. Generally I enjoyed it, although I felt as though it did drag occasionally. I did not care for the ending much, nor the direction the narrator's relationship with Emma went. I suspect that I was a little young to truly appreciate this book and maybe someday I will try to find it again to reread.
Julia Jackson
3.5 stars, actually.
Mar 15, 2009 Diane rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Kind of a New Yorky hetero version of Babycakes crossed with an unfunny Underfoot in Show Business. I couldn't get why anyone would actually LIKE Emma, once the initial dazzle of her strangeness wore off - meaning, of course, that I didn't. Which made the book something of a slog. Some serious editing might have helped - it could have been half the length and possibly a much better book.
I wasn't sure about this book at first (it follows a pretty overused "Joe Schmoe falls for hot screwed-up chick" theme), but I enjoyed it. I don't tend to read a lot of books that are written in first-person and this one is very appealing. It's funny and poignant and I was surprised just how much it made me reflect on my own life - always a good sign in a book. Recommended.
Stephen Thorsett
Aug 10, 2008 Stephen Thorsett rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: 20 somethings who love NYC
This story of a 20-something guy finding his way through NYC and the world was a five star read when I was a 20-something guy, but the spark was quite a bit dimmer on a second read nearly twenty years later. Great setting, fun characters, psychologically not quite convincing. I've averaged my ratings.
May 05, 2013 Daniel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This is an immensely entertaining must read for anyone involved in theatre. Great characters, funny situations, and an interesting overall twist is blended directly in the era that the story spans. I return to this book as frequently as an old friend. It amuses me that much and more.
Apr 20, 2014 Kim rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Ugh. Am I ever glad to be done with this book. The characters, especially Emma, who unfortunately is what a significant portion of the book is about, are not likable. This was a slow read for me and I couldn't wait to be done.
Jul 07, 2008 Eric rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It has been years since reading this, but I remember that I could not put it down. This book cemented, once and for all, my love and eternal, unrequited romance for New York City.

Aug 17, 2007 Betsy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own
I read this so long ago that I scarcely remember the plot, but I do remember being unable to put it down. I haven't felt that way about any of the guy's other books.
Emily Turner
Emma reminds me of the pseudo-intellectual, "misunderstood", please read my bad poetry, I'm as deep as a puddle types that get on my nerves in real life.
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Wilton Barnhardt (born 1960) is a former reporter for Sports Illustrated and is the author of Emma Who Saved My Life (1989), Gospel (1993), Show World (1999), and the New York Times bestseller Lookaway, Lookaway (2013). Barnhardt took his B.A. at Michigan State University, and was a graduate student at Brasenose College, University of Oxford, where he read for an M.Phil. in English.

He currently t
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