Nora Ephron is back with this slim, delightful volume of short essays about what it's like to be a modern woman, particularly a woman "of a certain age." No odes to Jimmy Choos and Birkin bags here. No long boozy discourses on unattainable men while drinking cosmopolitans. On the contrary, Ephron spends a great deal of time discussing the very real frustrations of being a modern woman. She's not one to suffer gladly from "purse envy": In the aptly titled "I Hate My Purse" she warns: "If you're one of those women who think there's something great about purses, don't even bother reading this because there will be nothing here for you." She details a recent trip to Paris with a friend whose mission it was to obtain a vintage Kelly Bag, which she did, only to sit for hours at a café because she didn't want to get her new bag wet in the rain. All that money and fuss for something that loose Tic Tacs will litter the bottom of, the author muses.
One of the more enjoyable essays serves as a sort of culinary memoir. In "Serial Monogamy: A Memoir," Ephron recalls her introduction to cuisine and cooking, with the gift of THE GOURMET COOKBOOK from her mother in 1962. Intrigued by trying out new recipes and admiring those who write them, she gleans what she can from everyone from Julia Child to Martha Stewart. In addition to savory memories of meals past, she imparts helpful information such as "the Rule of Four," something she picked up from a chef specializing in southern cuisine, the idea being that "most people serve three things for dinner --- some sort of meat, some sort of starch, and some sort of vegetable --- but Lee always served four. And the fourth thing was always unexpected...whatever it was, that fourth thing seemed to have an almost magical effect on the eating process." If "Serial Monogamy" doesn't send you running for your cookbooks, then nothing will.
The title essay, as well as "On Maintenance," directly addresses the issue of aging in this youth-obsessed culture. Ephron wishes she could do something about her sagging neck instead of always wearing scarves and turtlenecks to compensate. But she knows that to do something about her neck would require a full face-lift and she's not quite ready for that level of surgical commitment. What about exercise? This is a woman who views her DVD of the musical Chicago as a workout tape, so logging time on the treadmill is her idea of hell. If there are any young readers of this collection, Ephron suggests they appreciate their youthful beauty while they have it, which means to put on a bikini and don't take it off until you're 34.
The ode to New York living, "Moving On," which was published in The New Yorker prior to this collection, might find resonance with only metropolitan readers, but most of these essays remind us of just why we love Nora Ephron in the first place. Always witty, urbane but not alienating, inviting and funny, she charms her readers with her agonies and ecstasies of being a woman. Reading I FEEL BAD ABOUT MY NECK is the literary equivalent of having lunch with a close girlfriend.
Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on January 22, 2011