What teenager has never wished to be born into a different family?
To experience a different set of parents, siblings if born an only
child (or the opposite if brothers and sisters swarm), or to live
in a different kind of family home?
Frederica Hatch, the precocious albeit naïve teenage narrator
of Elinor Lipman's new novel, MY LATEST GRIEVANCE, is no exception.
The only child of David and Aviva Hatch --- college
professors-cum-dorm-parents at a second-rate all-girl's school in
Massachusetts --- is turning 16 and chafing under the bonds of
family love. Raised in an unconditional home even by 1970s
standards, Frederica's parents are psychology/sociology professors
and union agitators who pride themselves on their modern
childrearing methods, including anatomically correcting her dolls
and raising their only daughter as an equal. Her childhood is spent
living in a dorm on campus, and Frederica grows up eating family
meals communally in dining halls and sharing both her parents with
every troubled student who knocks on the dorm-room door at Dewing
While Frederica loves her parents and enjoys her "college mascot"
status at Dewing, she longs for a traditional family home with a
car and parents who have normal jobs and aren't always attending
Union meetings. So when she uncovers a surprising fact about her
father --- that he was married previously, to a distant cousin no
less named Laura Lee French --- she becomes exceedingly curious and
strikes up a correspondence with Laura Lee, in spite of her
parents' nervous protests.
And then the glamorous, devil-may-care Laura Lee gets a job at
Dewing College, as a new dorm mother, and suddenly nothing in
Frederica's life is remotely the same.
As in her previous novels, THEN SHE FOUND ME and ISABEL'S BED,
Elinor Lipman strikes gold with her patented concoction of
sensible-narrator-meets-eccentric-soul. The formula works, however,
because each of her characters has such surprising depth that it's
easy to connect with them. In MY LATEST GRIEVANCE, Frederica is a
teen you can't help but love --- she's sarcastic and very
articulate, but Lipman strikes a perfect note with her and you can
see the child not far beneath the surface. Laura Lee is
practically certifiable, but you can see glimpses of a warm heart
that's had a tough time. Even Frederica's parents, David and Aviva,
are not mere caricatures --- you can see real parental love and
concern beneath the Julius-and-Ethel-Rosenberg exteriors. And the
supporting cast is equally well-drawn, including the two-timing
College President trying to worm his way out of a tough situation,
and Frederica's grandmother-in-denial trying to hold together a
rapidly disintegrating family Christmas.
As with most of her novels, Lipman doesn't shy away from a few
thorny topics --- anti-Semitism, a common theme in some of her
books, is touched on here as well. But as always, she
addresses them with a light touch, firmly in keeping with the
novel's light tone, and while she gets her point across, it's never
heavy-handed. MY LATEST GRIEVANCE is a thoroughly enjoyable read in
classic Lipman style, and fans of her earlier work will not be
Reviewed by Lourdes Orive on January 12, 2011
My Latest Grievance