Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Surrender, Dorothy

Rate this book
From the New York Times bestselling author Meg Wolitzer, a “devastatingly on target” ( Elle ) novel about a young woman's accidental death and its effect on her family and friends.

For years, Sara Swerdlow was transported by an unfettered sense of immortality. Floating along on loving friendships and the adoration of her mother, Natalie, Sara's notion of death was entirely alien to her existence. But when a summer night's drive out for ice cream ends in tragedy, thirty-year-old Sara—"held aloft and shimmering for years"—finally lands.

Mining the intricate relationship between love and mourning, acclaimed novelist Meg Wolitzer explores a single, overriding question: who, finally, "owns" the excruciating loss of this young woman—her mother or her closest friends? Depicting the aftermath of Sara's shocking death with piercing humor and shattering realism, Surrender, Dorothy is the luminously thoughtful, deeply moving exploration of what it is to be a mother and a friend, and, above all, what it takes to heal from unthinkable loss.

224 pages, Paperback

First published April 2, 1999

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Meg Wolitzer

56 books2,773 followers
Meg Wolitzer is the New York Times–bestselling author of The Interestings, The Uncoupling, The Ten-Year Nap, The Position, The Wife, and Sleepwalking. She is also the author of the young adult novel Belzhar. Wolitzer lives in New York City.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
101 (10%)
4 stars
298 (31%)
3 stars
374 (39%)
2 stars
138 (14%)
1 star
41 (4%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 106 reviews
Profile Image for Olive Fellows (abookolive).
582 reviews4,713 followers
April 3, 2022
3.5 stars. This was a quick, summery read about the sudden death of a 30-year-old woman vacationing with friends at the house they rent each summer. Her overbearing mother takes her daughter's death extremely hard (as you would expect) and so she fills her daughter's spot in the summer house as everyone tries to cope with the loss and secrets are revealed.

Meg Wolitzer's writing muscle was clearly getting stronger in this 1999 release, her fifth novel. Some elements of the plot needed fleshing out and I remain unconvinced that Shawn needed to be a character, but fans of Wolitzer's later novels will likely find this one satisfying (as I did).

Click here to hear more of my thoughts on this book over on my Booktube channel, abookolive!

802 reviews140 followers
June 22, 2008
I would like to rename this book: Who Cares? The book revolves around the untimely death of a woman whose charm is lost on me (not just charm, she is depicted as somewhat God like, let's ignore the fact that she had an affair with her best friend's husband, she is still angelic and beautiful and all things good) and whose friends and mother mourn her miserably in some ugly summer house. Yeeha. I like depressing but this wasn't even enjoyable - it was just boring. I didn't care that she died, I didn't care that her stupid friends spend the whole summer dealing with this fact, and I just kept waiting for it to be over.
Profile Image for Kristin.
213 reviews
May 29, 2008
The character that dies is the type that tells her mother all about her sexual life and sleeps with her best friend's man. Her best friend is of course not as pretty as the uniquely gorgeous character that speaks and writes in beautiful Japanese. Her gay friend is attached to her in a way that seems unhealthy and everyone idolizes her. Her mother is brash and obnoxious. I hate, consequently, all of the characters and can not understand what is so special about this woman. I think what I hate is when authors go on and on about how wonderful a character is, but then proceed to only mention banal and boring traits or things like, "she had a back that was beautiful and slender like a seahorse." What does that even mean? I would be much more interested in learning about a character that seemed ordinary but, when she dies, the reader finds out why her loved ones loved her or, even better, not why you love someone (because is there really a why to something like that?), but how they loved her. This book missed it's mark. Unless I change my mind in the second half...

Update: I finished the book last night and my opinion holds. I realized that what I hated about the book wasn't just the dead girl, but all of the characters and why I hated them is because not a single one of them felt real. They were all such types. This writer was trying so hard to create realistic characters that, instead of interesting quirky characters that you could relate to as a reader, you are left with a bunch of types with nothing behind the masks: the smart gay guy that is ashamed of his body, the good-looking gay guy that hates that he is only liked for his body, the married man that fantasies about other women and cheats on his wife but really loves her, and the new mother that is having a hard time letting her child out in the world without being afraid. Why can't the smart gay guy not care that he is unattractive or the wife cheats on her better looking husband or the husband is the one that has fears for their child? Because these aren't the type of people you would meet out on the street, or so the author thinks. Better stick to what she knows and what she knows seems to be middlebrow romance novels since all of the characters in this story could have been lifted from any of them. They might read and banter and drink more than their romance novel counterparts, but they are otherwise alike.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
256 reviews
January 23, 2014
Because I had read a couple of tepid reviews of this book, I didn’t expect to enjoy it very much. To my great surprise, I found it deeply moving, delicately written, psychologically perceptive, and wickedly witty in the way it characterizes the failings (both real and imagined) of the characters. It’s the story of a young woman who dies suddenly in an accident and how her mother and a group of friends who shared a summer home with her come to terms with their loss. “Surrender, Dorothy” rings very true in its depiction of gay men and their relationships with heterosexual women. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have expected anything less than a wise and stylish work from Meg Wolitzer after liking her recent “The Interestings” so much.
51 reviews
June 5, 2011
This is an interesting story about a mother's and group of friends' reactions to a girl's sudden death. The character development is good, but the plot is weak. The entire time you are reading this book, you feel as if you're going to go somewhere, but you never do. It's almost as if you are experiencing a tension the entire time you are reading. Perhaps this is Wolitzer's goal. Her characters and story in this novel actually made me uncomfortable. One could say that this, in itself, is an art form. Not sure!!
Profile Image for Pascale.
1,149 reviews43 followers
March 28, 2016
Not the best of early Wolitzer. The story takes place in a slightly dingy house on Long Island in August. Lovely Sara has just died and for want of a better idea, her mother Natalie joins Sara's best friends in their holiday rental. Natalie is vaguely jealous of Adam, the shy gay playwright who was Sara's closest friend, but throws herself into mothering all the residents of the house, including Adam's boyfriend Shawn, an aspiring artist with a lot more ambition than talent. Natalie helps Maddy relax around her newborn son, but also ends up flirting with Maddy's husband Peter, who doesn't know that Sara fell pregnant the only time they cheated on Maddy, and had an abortion. Another rather superfluous coincidence is that at a party where Adam drags her, Natalie is reunited with her childhood friend Sheila, now married to a millionaire. This reunion seems planted solely for the purpose of enabling Natalie to soar above Long Island and her grief in the nabob's helicopter. I was attracted to this book because the blurb stated that it dealt with how a mother on the one hand, and a set of friends on the other, cope with the loss of a person they love deeply. Although there are insights into that uneasy dynamic, something is missing to make this as memorable as "This is My Life".
Profile Image for Janelle.
260 reviews8 followers
December 30, 2009
This was a difficult book to read as a thirty-something, especially as a childless thirty-something who'd recently lost her mother.

I've always felt that "friends are the family we choose for ourselves" and have had close circles of friends. We all want to believe that we've made a significant enough impact on people's lives that it wouldn't be easy for them to move on. But loving them, we also don't want the loss to be hard on them.

Although I didn't find the characters all that likable, the story felt real to me. I've seen how sometimes one person is the reason that a random collection of people is a group and the loss of that person breaks all ties. I've also seen death bring people together in unexpected ways.

It's a grim reminder that none of us is promised tomorrow, but oddly enough I felt it was a good year end read to get me motivated to focus more on the things that matter.
Profile Image for Dawn.
622 reviews24 followers
July 29, 2011
Four old friends take a month every summer to escape NYC and hang out at the beach. Who are these people who can take a month of vacation every summer? Conveniently, one is a public school teacher, one is a playwright, one is a perpetual student, and the other is an attorney on maternity leave (don't ask me how she managed other summers).
The first night one of them dies in a car accident. They stay on for the rest of the month and start the grieving process. The dead girl's mother joins the and she also begins the grieving process.

Up until the last two chapters, I thought the book was fine. The dead girl wasn't perfect, but she was missed. Then in the second to last chapter, the author inexplicably engineers a group meltdown which exposes all of the dead girl's secrets. Then she fixes it all in the last chapter. I don't know what Wolitzer's experiences of grieving have been, but mine have not resembled that in the least.

It was a mediocre book.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Roxanne.
263 reviews
July 24, 2007

Wolitzer is extremely easy to read. I started with The Wife, after toxicpickle gave it to me (I recommend it).

Sara, the much-loved central character, dies early in the novel, and the rest is spent mourning her. She is the tie that binds her friends together - the hub of the wheel; only after her death is each character released. It's a fascinating idea, that a person can be so compelling that people around her are pulled into her gravitational field.
Profile Image for Wendy.
347 reviews6 followers
April 21, 2012
I'm not sure why this one didn't do it for me -- nothing wrong with it structurally, and Wolitzer's writing is accessible. The premise is also strong. But for some reason I never engaged with the characters. They didn't feel like people I would choose to be friends with, which made it harder for me to empathize with them. And in a book about overcoming loss, that's a fatal blow. But I do think it's worth reading, and I'm sure I'm in the minority as far as this novel goes.
608 reviews2 followers
March 3, 2023
The opening chapter about a lovely, lively 20 something and her gay long time best friend reminded me of my daughter and her friend, which made the book even more devastating. She got killed in a car accident, and the story covers the mother's grief stricken choice to move into the summer share house with Sara's closest friends, as each of them deal with the grief and loss. So much harder to read thinking how I would feel, cope, go on in that situation.
Profile Image for Sharienne.
56 reviews
December 21, 2018
The book began. It continued forward and reached a middle with the appearance of about half the pages read. Occasionally, I mused about the paper that filled the space between the covers. In the end, however, those other books that I didn't read caused an emotion to hit me. The end plodded up and stopped. I recommend that words are the goal when you read this book.
Great title, though.
Profile Image for Leo.
4,300 reviews385 followers
September 18, 2020
I just didn't get on with it, the story was weak with not much interesting happening and didn't feel the characters grew much
Profile Image for Rachel.
1,030 reviews44 followers
August 21, 2017
Once again, Meg Wolitzer proves to be a salve against the mediocre novel that I read immediately before her work. In this one, she chronicles a mid-90s August between a group of people adjusting to new realities after one of their own dies in a car crash.

Sara is a 30-something Japanese-studies graduate student, perpetually single and perpetually dating, who is unsure of where she is going in her life. Much of the first chapter is dedicated to her sense of identity, history and insecurity before her abrupt end. Then, by default, we shift to the companions with whom she'd been spending this month in a ramshackle beach house--her best friend Adam; a breakout famous playwright who is rooting around for his next project while preferring Sara's platonic company to that of the men he sleeps with; her childhood bestie, Maddy, lawyer and new mother, with whom she spent years at summer camp nursing that tenuous half-love, half-competition and resentment relationship so prevalent between girls; Peter, teacher, a friend from college and Maddy's husband who has some secrets; and Shawn, an aspiring musical composer, who didn't know Sara at all, and just started dating Adam, partly in the hopes of ingratiating himself in the other man's success.

Added to this after the death is Natalie, Sara's mother, who strives to understand her daughter through this perennial summer experience. Divorced, a serial dater herself and relatively open about sex, the two women shared a close, if somewhat stifling at times relationship. One of the little ironies is, unbeknownst to Natalie, how much Sara wanted to keep this particular experience separate from her relationship with her mother. Otherwise they were on the phone, gabbing and divulging stories about their men all the time, and they developed a special greeting based on their love of "The Wizard of Oz"--hence the title of the novel.

One thing that drew me into the novel is how inevitably self-centered people can be. As we took on the POVs of each of these characters (and, very briefly, that of their self-.serving and disinterested land lady,) we see how people place themselves in the middle of their own narratives. Sara played a big part, to everyone except Shawn, but she was always in a supporting role, of sorts--bolstering the sense of self in various ways for the POV. It just got me into thinking how natural and genuine this feels--that there's no way not to mold or justify relationships to fit your own narrative. Relationships, whether they be sexual or platonic (and there's a whole lot of talk about the differences and meanings of each) don't exist outside of the ego. There's no way to not be the center of your own life; yours is the only perspective to which you have access.

I like how this inevitably led all of the characters to be at least a little unlikeable--not downright monsters, but self-indulgent in their needs, both before and after Sara's death (and she herself was no different). Shawn was the outlier, of course, but rather than being a jarring presence, it's like we could understand the idea of sudden loss and personal agenda more complexly when we saw it from another angle, too. Also there were side characters to prod our leads every now and then, and the intriguing dynamics that built up between Natalie and each of the younger members of the house.

Sometimes this novel dipped into little conveniences, but never enough to break the spell of the whole. Wolitzer also didn't dwell too much in the depressing elements of grief; there's enough flashbacks and subtle wit to give nods to the comic side of life, that feeling, even when death doesn't loom large, of just trying to hang on.

I found this to be a poignant exploration of life and loss, relationships and identity. It passed my "talking to the characters obsessively while reading" test, too. :p. A true testament to the power of fiction.
Profile Image for Micah Webber.
13 reviews
December 21, 2022
Something about summer camp—maybe its insulation from the mundane, from the demands of reality, from parents; or the fact that, in a cozy, campfire kind of way it promises transcendence of the kinds of obstacles that normally obstruct our way to self-possession, intimacy, and self-revelation; that it renders those obstacles temporarily, magically absent; or maybe even that camaraderie is a guaranteed side-effect, that we get these snapshots into what we like to hope and wish are our truest selves in ragtag bundles of friends; or maybe it’s all of these things combined—has so mesmerized Wolitzer’s heart that both books I’ve read from her revolve around it (the other being “The Interestings”).

I honestly feel like she just needs to write some memoir unpacking exactly why summer camp is such a thing for her. I think it’s the book she really has in her. It definitely was what made “The Interestings” wonderful, when it was. She excels at minutiae, at the way these quotidian details betray how we differ from the archetypes those who only know us partially categorize us into.

In a novel like “Surrender, Dorothy,” though, her most poetic points are brought about by plot contrivances which—though barely contrived when compared to a lot of other literature—come off as the fraying of seams that were never meant to be seen in the first place. You can see her effort in bringing it about, can tell when it’s hurried, as though she’s almost embarrassed about it. Which makes me feel like an asshole for even pointing out, like those dance judges who congratulate how flawlessly a Herculean maneuver was executed, but then complain that the strain which rendered it flawless was obvious, and shouldn’t be.

It’s a testament to how adept she is at naturalism that anything which strays beyond the bounds of the likely betrays itself as a little forced, a little threadbare in her stories. Her dialogue, similarly, starts off in distinct, character-accurate tones but always sort of regresses to sounding like her voice, her thoughts thinly translated, only decipherable as NOT narration because it lands between quotation marks. This is a mixed bag for me, because I love her prose. I almost wish she’d dispense with the dialogue altogether. Which of course is ridiculous, but maybe that’s what I’m saying—I need a Wolitzer memoir or collection of essays.

Also, since I’m already leaning into the asshole, I find it kind of dumbfounding that the “Wizard of Oz”-inspired ritual of saying “Surrender Dorothy” never has its comma or lack thereof worked out. The idea in the movie was that those who loved her were demanded to surrender Dorothy (Sara’s friends are grappling with giving her up) but her mother is grappling with surrendering herself, as an imperative, “surrender, Dorothy.” It’s probably the copy editor in me, but the fact that the presence and absence of the comma is literally the vehicle of the central metaphor’s delivery, makes me wish it had at some point been explicitly addressed. But alas, no such character epiphany or metamorphosis of meaning was to be found.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Laurie Hoppe.
209 reviews2 followers
January 28, 2019
A tight knit group of friends spends part of the summer together every year at the same beach house. This year, the tragic and unthinkable happens. Sara, their hub, dies suddenly. The friends are adrift in grief and despair. Sara's divorced mother, miserable and alone, joins them in the house. Together they all mourn and alternately try to keep Sara alive with memories, and try to heal and get past their grief.

I loved Adam, Sara's playwright friend. He was complex and loving and, ultimately the voice of reason. I was less impressed with the other characters in the book. They were either unlikable (Natalie, Sara's overbearing mother) or sketchily drawn (Shawn and Peter) or downright bizarre (best friend Maddy is a nursing mother who smokes and drinks and worries constantly about her baby's well being; if you really want him to be safe and well, Maddy, why are you feeding him a steady diet of nicotine and alcohol through your milk?).

This was a fascinating, frustrating and ambitious book. Even though it wasn't altogether successful, I'm still glad I read it.
12 reviews
September 2, 2017
i was surprised by the 1 & 2 star reviews here, the book is amazing & Wolitzer's writing incredible. i felt Sara was a metaphor, for youth and desirability, fantasies of perpetual studenthood or (Broadway) fame, and attachment to our parents, all of which die before we can move to adulthood, which Wolitzer proposes to be 30. Sara is the foolish thing we do (cheating, drinking, smoking, hating parents) that each character must reconcile. i love that she hides her anger at her mother so deeply it must literally be translated. and the supposed trashing of the summer house, "which they will never return to" - it isn't trashed, it is improved by what they've been through, but they still dont get to go back. i love it. so transcendent. such a gifted writer.
307 reviews
September 2, 2018
Not one of my favorite books from Meg Wolitzer. This is the story of a groups of friends that rent a house by the ocean outside of NYC every August. On the first night of their stay Sara and her best friend, Adam go out for ice cream. They are involved in a car accident on the way home and Sara dies. As an only child of a divorced mother, Sara has always been very close to her mother (probably too close). Her mother, Natalie, comes to the ocean side house to find out what happened and ends up staying for the remainder of the month. The book tells of each of the friends relationship with Sara. As a bereaved mother, I had hoped for more insight. The book is more of a sketch of each character, rather than a insightful story.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
876 reviews1 follower
June 11, 2018
My favorite so far. Shocked so near the beginning when Sara is killed in an auto accident. The group of same aged "children" who inhabit this summer house at the beach each year have come up again but everything is thrown crazy with Sara's death.
Each reacts differently to death but when Sara's mother arrives, it brings each of them something special. Like the elephant described by the blind, they each find what they need or want in her.
Meg describes moments in time so vividly you can see them clearly.
Profile Image for Lauren.
1,361 reviews67 followers
February 15, 2018
I read this in anticipation of reading Wolitzer's new book and to prepare for an interview with her. Although I think it's a bit slight, it does have so many elements that I've come to really admire in Wolitzer's work - the emphasis on friendship, the bonds between parent and child, and the willingness to just go there, no matter what the emotions are. And I think it's really gutsy to kill off your main character in the first chapter.
Profile Image for Arnie Kahn.
300 reviews
February 23, 2023
"Surrender Dorothy" is a short novel about a mixed group of 30 year olds (female, male, gay, straight, single, married) who met in college and are spending a summer month at a cottage at the beach. A group member is killed in an auto accident and her grieving mother joins the group. I found the novel interesting and the writing excellent, but I wasn’t moved as much as I was by Wolitzer’s "The Interestings."
Profile Image for Suzanne.
Author 29 books253 followers
April 11, 2018
It was fun to discover that one of the characters was a Japanese studies major. I liked all of the references to Japan and Japanese.

I put off reading this book for a long time because it's about death and grief, but Wolitzer has a light touch and she can be very funny, so it was a pleasure to read.
Profile Image for Melody.
349 reviews16 followers
January 19, 2019
This was a book that was easy to keep reading and had a lot to say about family, friendship, death, and life. At the same time, however, it felt shallow and annoying. I didn't connect with any of the characters and thus found their struggles (which seemed to mostly be related to their sex lives) boring.
94 reviews14 followers
April 8, 2020
Ah, this one did not disappoint! What an interesting idea for a novel, and as always, such realistic, multi-faceted characters from Meg Wolitzer.

I feel so lucky to have found her books in this period of my life. I hope she has many more books in the pipeline because no one articulates the early-30s existential 'urghs' quite like she does.
Profile Image for Anna Taylor.
115 reviews23 followers
October 11, 2020
The third Meg Wolitzer I've read. I read The Interesting so long ago that I don't honestly know if I would rate this as her best or second best (I just know it was much better than the pretentious Ten Year Nap). It was heartbreakingly real in its depiction of grief from different viewpoints. It won't make you cry but it will make you think.
Profile Image for Sandi.
67 reviews6 followers
March 28, 2020
If you want to read a book that is all about the death of a character you have no investment in and the depressives who are mourning her that you have even less investment in, this is the book for you.
Depressing with no payoff or insights.Don’t even bother.
2,162 reviews
April 8, 2022
This book is a quick easy read. The mother of the young woman that dies deals with the death of her daughter in unusual ways. Her group of friends go on this journey together. I read the book while I was at the gym.
Profile Image for Matthew Cline.
65 reviews
November 20, 2022
This book has Wolitzer’s trademark writing style, but it was more well done in her later books. There was really no plot or climax until the very end where she forgot that you can’t apparently write a book based solely off character studies, but I wish she’d tried. 3.5/5 stars
Profile Image for Deneen.
62 reviews
August 1, 2017
A light read ... kind of dry. Not exactly my kind of read but I can't NOT finish a book.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 106 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.