HEARTBURN by Nora Ephron
Every word in Heartburn oozes with the quintessential voice we have come to associate with Nora Ephron. From her honesty to the quirky way she turns something as mundane as ordering lunch into an historical event, we are entranced. Paragraph after paragraph she dances around an issue only to stab us in the funny bone with a two-word sentence and we listen, and fall in love all over again.
Nora Ephron is the Gypsy Rose Lee of writers. She has a gimmick, a style of her own that no one will ever match. This is what I have loved and admired about her work and what I will always miss. Whenever I remember that she is no longer here to infuse us with her perspective on the trivial pet peeves that send our lives into chaos, my heart sags. Thank goodness she had the courage to share.
Heartburn, her fictional debut, is a light-hearted, yet truthful documentation of how one woman, Rachel Samstat, comes to terms with the end of her marriage. Rachel’s first-person narrative reels us in from the opening line as she shares the intimate details of her thoughts and emotions. There is no set-up, no preparation. Rachel offers up the play-by-play and we devour each twist and turn with pleasure.
This joy ride is not all ha! ha! Even stellar comedians need to pull back from the zingers to set up the next bit. Many times throughout the book, our hearts go out to Rachel and we say, “Aw,” before she rallies with a turn of phrase, or discovers another hitch in her already less than perfect life.
Rachel Samstat and Nora’s ability to move forward no matter what is one of the reasons we remain tuned in. It is also one of the reasons we are able to forgive the hole in the book. We forgive the weakness in Heartburn because the author, through her protagonist admits the flaw when she apologizes for not including more recipes.
“It’s hard to work in recipes when you’re moving the plot forward. Not that this book has an enormous amount of plot, but it has more plot than I’ve ever dealt with before. [At least] this one has a story with a beginning and an end…What about middles you may ask. Middles are a problem. Middles are perhaps the major problem of contemporary life.”
If Ephron’s essays tickle you, you’ll love Heartburn because seventy-five to ninety percent (I’m covering my ass with the numerical spread since I’ve never been a figure whiz.) of the novel reads like an essay. In addition, if you have read the last two essay collections, I Feel Bad About My Neck and I Remember Nothing, you will notice a lot of what goes on in Rachel’s relationship history is nothing new for the reader. Rachel’s history is Nora’s history. That said, if you’ve been charmed by Nora, Rachel will charm you as well. If not, you may be frustrated by the lack of characterization, conflict and tension, and you may wonder where’s the beef, which brings me back to the opening.
The beef lies within Ephron’s voice. She mesmerizes, then leads us like the Pied Piper and only in retrospect do we realize she left us a smidge hungry, unless you are a writer. If so, you can covet, admire and when the muse moves you, attempt to dissect the seamlessness of her voice to discover a way to enrich your own.
If you are looking for a novel to pass the time as you fly from New York to Los Angeles, commute from the suburbs into the city, need fun material for vacation, or an entertaining read after a long day, Heartburn is the novel for you.
Savor the Heartburn of marriage.