In the introduction, Ephron humorously points out that Heartburn is often referred to as a thinly-disguised novel about the breakdown of her second marriage, in which she thinly disguised herself by making herself ‘considerably more composed’ than she was at the time, or thinly disguised her husband ‘by giving him a beard that belonged to one of my friends’. She also mentions she, as a lot of writers do, nicked some situations from other people’s real accounts of them.
I know this is all rather straightforward and said in jest somewhat – but the way she talks about it does explain the cobbled, patchwork welter we end up with. It has moments of pure perception, strung along to try and create a semi-cohesive narrative, or at least a thematic train of thought. But her voice, hoarse from laughing through so much pain and self-deprecation, loses its wit and fervour sometimes, leaving a sad trail of words we have no choice but to pick up piece by piece, lest we miss those wise and lucid crumbs.
Nora Ephron is insightful and pithy and glimmering – but her style does not lend itself to the novelistic form. Her films – When Harry Met Sally in particular – remain staunch testaments to the back-and-forth, witter-warring dialogue that she cultivated, and which went on to clearly influence the work of acclaimed show-runners like Amy Sherman-Palladino. I cannot speak for her essays (they’re next on my list) but in a shorter, more direct space, I imagine the wood and the wool will fade off, leaving her largely unencumbered by device and free to rattle on without pretence.
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