Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Elinor Lipman

Elinor Lipman is the award-winning author of many novels, including The View from Penthouse B and The Inn at Lake Devine; one essay collection, I Can't Complain; and Tweet Land of Liberty: Irreverent Rhymes from the Political Circus. She lives in New York City.

Lipman's new novel is Good Riddance.

Just before Valentine's Day I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I know you think happy endings are for the sentimental and soft, for the unserious, for the romantically inclined; for the beach. Along the narrative path there is very likely love—its ups and downs, its pain and its pleasures. And if the author follows the excellent examples of William Shakespeare, you’ll probably get a marriage as the tale’s comic closure.

None of these titles are new or necessarily on my night-stand at this moment, but Valentine’s Day is approaching, and I love them with all my heart.

The Republic of Love by Carol Shields
I was lucky enough to review this book, a novel less known than her Pulitzer-Prize-winning Stone Diaries, when it was released in 1992, and I opened my rave, “Try to imagine a more delicious premise for a novel: a 35-year-old high-achieving folklorist who studies mermaid legends meets a thrice-divorced 40-year-old radio deejay, provoking an instant, intense devotion that neither -- as romance-starved as they are -- can fully metabolize.” I continued, “Ah, heaven: unabashed love at first sight, with a high I.Q. …perfectly rendered …a touching, elegantly funny, luscious work of fiction.”

The New Yorkers, possibly my favorite Cathleen Schine novel. I even love its flap copy (“Dogs bring people together unexpectedly, acting as cupids for the quiet, the struggling, sometimes lonely, eccentric people…”) and its dedication: “To the memory of Buster, who, in eighteen months taught me more about the city than I had discovered in thirty years.” Schine lovingly delivers the overlapping orbits of an ensemble cast of Upper West-Siders—for sure connected by love (or avoidance) of dogs, but foremost a people-rescue story.

How Elizabeth Barrett Browning Saved My Life by Mameve Medwed is another smart, even laugh-out-loud gem of a novel, this one set in Cambridge, Mass., behind the downmarket stall in a antiques emporium Everything changes for the depressed Abby Randolph when she goes on Antiques Roadshow, cradling a chamber pot that once did service under the bed of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. For added sympaticomedy, there is Abby’s bleak romantic resume, with a self-actualized ex-husband, and an old boyfriend who revealed Abby’s shortcomings in a crummy autobiographical novel. As Kirkus Reviews said of this, Medwed’s third, very funny novel, “an adventure to which Jane Austen might have raised a celebratory glass of port.”

Happy All the Time by Laurie Colwin.
When Guido Morris spots Holly Sturgis for the first time he immediately senses that she will be difficult, quirky, and hard to live with. His cousin and best friend, Vincent Cardworthy, meets Misty Berkowitz—who from the get-go is cranky, bored, misanthropic. The story follows their courtships deliciously, sardonically, and give us four memorable characters who find love in spite of themselves. "Love made fools of everyone,” Vincent laments. “It was man's fate…. Sometimes I think it's love and sometimes I think it's sickness." It was because of Happy All the Time that I tried my hand at fiction, hoping I could do for readers what Laurie Colwin, who died at 48, did for me.

Selling the Lite of Heaven by Suzanne Strempek Shea
This book came in the mail, in pages, an unedited, unpublished manuscript that the author’s husband had asked me to read and evaluate. I started reading it on the walk back up my driveway. I went straight to my phone and left a message for the author, telling her that I loved it already, after one page. The premise alone tickles me: Not only left at the altar but for it when fiancĂ© Eddie Balicki chooses the priesthood over marriage, the 32-year-old narrator is trying to sell her 2.75-karat engagement ring in the local Pennysaver. The ad brings to her parents' home a parade of potential buyers, and to the story, insightful, deliciously ethnic (Polish Catholic) kind, droll humor.

And in non-fiction:

In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle by Madeleine Blais.
This began as a New York Times Magazine cover story, which I’d read and loved. When I heard it was going to be stretched into a book, I thought it might get leggy, chapters added that felt like filler. Not so! Not wanting to spill the beans, I’ll say only that the book covers the astonishing 24-1 season of the 1992-93 Amherst-Pelham Regional High School Lady Hurricanes basketball team, onward to the final championship game against the mighty Hillies from Haverhill. No wonder it’s this good, written by Pulitzer-Prize winner Madeleine Blais.
Visit Elinor Lipman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Good Riddance.

--Marshal Zeringue