*Image via I Love the Upper West Side — an account I still follow despite the fact I no longer live there.
I am currently listening to Nora Ephron’s Heartburn, narrated by Meryl Streep. I’ve read this book at least twice before, and each time, I am completely gobsmacked by Ephron’s brilliance. She is witty, she is clever, she is idiosyncratically chatty, but running just beneath that hilariously-neurotic-friend-from-New-York persona is a sluicing intelligence and a tender heart. The arrangement and timing of her comedy is nothing short of genius, especially given that her medium was the printed word, and therefore uniquely susceptible to readerly skimmings and misreadings and unanticipated breaks that might interrupt or obviate her humor (in a way that, for example, a script might not be). Of course, hearing her words come to life via Meryl Streep only makes everything fifteen times better. There is an outrageously funny part about the way pregnancy transforms a woman’s breasts, and I actually cackled out loud on the street while walking Tilly because of it. Ephron shines on her own, and then Meryl comes along and burnishes her silver. It is epic.
Heartburn is an autobiographical novel in that it follows the shape of Ephron’s own life: just like the protagonist, Ephron learned that her husband was cheating on her when she was seven months pregnant. On this re-reading, I found myself pondering the inclusion of recipes in the book in a way that made me reflect on the ethics and medium of the text overall. Are the recipes actually usable? I wondered. Heartburn is a fiction, and yet it was no secret that Ephron was really addressing the divorce between she and her philandering husband, journalist Carl Bernstein. And so what is “real” and what is not, and does this vinaigrette recipe hold up? The recipes feel like a litmus. (Has anyone tried them?). The recipes feel like they are meant to say something about truth, fiction, and the stories we tell because we must. There is a part in the novel where, in a group therapy session, a fellow participant says: “Why do you have to turn everything into a joke?” and the protagonist responds: “I don’t have to make everything into a joke. I have to turn everything into a story.” It is difficult to parse what is true and what is story, and whether there is a meaningful difference in this novel, and it can occasionally feel like evasive driving on Ephron’s part. She is able to excoriate her husband’s behavior but from the safety of a fictional perch.
I particularly enjoyed on this re-reading her thoughts on D.C. versus New York. The protagonist lives in D.C. when she learns that her husband has cheated on her and eventually moves back to the UWS of New York. She has this to say:
“Even the vegetables in New York are better. It’s not just the vegetables of course. I look out the window and I see the lights and the skyline and the people on the street rushing around looking for action, love, and the world’s greatest chocolate chip cookie, and my heart does a little dance. The little dance my heart was doing as I looked out the window of my father’s apartment was not exactly a polka but at least I was where I wanted to be. If I couldn’t have Mark, I could finally be back making sorrel soup.”
She captures a good deal of the magic of New York in this brief passage, and specifically the frenetic movement of its inhabitants in constant search. The feeling of search she captures so succinctly here is key to my experience of New York. New York is not just raw kinetic energy. It is busy because people are looking for things: the best meal, the best deal, the next 1 Train to South Ferry. And this gives the city a unique, bristling sense of purpose.
Worth a read, or a listen, if you have time this week — it’s a short book (under 200 pages) and a brief listen if you want a bracing display of comedy and heart.
+An attractive way to hide/store important papers.
+This gingham flounce swimsuit is adorable and under $40.
+These Maria La Rosa clutches are selling out quickly and absolutely fabulous. Bottega vibes in punchier colors.
+A fun hot pink summer dress for under $70.
+Hearing good things about this brow gel.
+This wedding guest dress is a dream — as if Agua Bendita and Markarian had a baby.
+These platform fisherman sandals are so on trend ATM.
+The smallest thing but I love decanting our cereals into these OXO containers. They keep cereal so much fresher than when kept in box and of course make my organization-obsessed heart sing.
+These are admittedly a bit of an eyesore, but I have heard from SO many moms that these water/sand tables are total MVPs for summertime with little ones. My children would flip!
+Oo! This flirty feathered mini will go home to one lucky size 2 at like 70% off!
+Eyeing this spiffy pocket square for Mr. Magpie.