I Can't Complain: (All Too) Personal Essays
Popular author Elinor Lipman transforms herself into your best friend via this collection of tales of and about her life. Along the way, we learn about Elinor's relatives in the "Meet the Family" section.
In the first essay, "Julia's Child," we meet the author's finicky mother, who refused any food contaminated with condiments such as mustard, pickles, salad dressings and ketchup while managing to be a creative cook. From her famously nonpicky father (who happily scraped mold off leftovers and then ate them), Elinor learned to adore books. He introduced her to her favorite author, humorist Max Shulman, who wrote THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS (on my new best friend Elinor's recommendation, I'm determined to read this book…soon!) She explains what makes Dobie Gillis an appealing character and why the humor of a book written in 1951 still works today. Sly Elinor, upon being advised not to claim DOBIE GILLIS as a favorite book in public, managed to get a subtle dig in at the critic, as only a well-published author can.
"As if readers are sitting down to sip a glass of wine with their best friend (if that best friend happened to be incredibly witty, intelligent, self-aware and encouraging --- and also a bestselling author), this collection feels like the very best gabfest imaginable."
Elinor's extended family includes close friends, such as Bobbie, who became a single mother in 1981. The father of Bobbie's baby, Julia, was a nice single man who was supportive of Bobbie and yet not the most enthusiastic father of an infant. However, his attitude totally changed as the baby grew into a girl and he became "Julia's famously, embarrassingly devoted dad…" Readers enjoying the warmly wonderful "How to Get Religion," the story of young Julia's family, are sure to experience the side-effect of lump-in-the-throat (at the very least).
After we find out more about Elinor's family, including a laugh-out-loud interlude on her son's introduction to sex ed, we learn about the author's life as a writer. In the section "On Writing," she confides that although she may call herself a blurb slut and sometimes "feels a blurb coming on," she has high standards for which books she will write blurbs: She has to actually like the book. Elinor doesn't leave us in the dark about how she writes her books. She enjoys the seat-of-the-pants, no-outline method that allows her to be surprised as the plot unfolds. She dishes on the importance of character names, as well as why food plays an important role in her novels.
In a series of Coupling columns originally written for the Boston Globe, Elinor fondly remembers her beloved husband. As a widow, she has dipped her toes into the online dating world, resulting in a friendship she dubs a "nomance" for the lack of romantic connection, which doesn't preclude an enjoyable, ongoing relationship.
As if readers are sitting down to sip a glass of wine with their best friend (if that best friend happened to be incredibly witty, intelligent, self-aware and encouraging --- and also a bestselling author), this collection feels like the very best gabfest imaginable. Others may find themselves, as I certainly did, slowing down to savor every nuance of each story and wishing we would never reach the end (if I have one gripe, it's that this collection is way too short…but I believe I'd be complaining about the very same thing if it totaled 5,400 pages, so there you go). Very highly recommended!
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on April 19, 2013