I have read all but one of the available Elinor Lipman books following my great success with The Family Man. And I am now pleased to report that Elinor Lipman has gone on my Favored Authors list. She is the kind of author you want to have on your shelves for when you wake up at night with terrible nightmares (or even just fretful stress dreams), or when you need an undemanding book to read ten pages of while you’re brushing your teeth at night.
Not all of these books share the feature of The Family Man that the good characters have nice things happen to them, and the bad characters get their comeuppance. However, they do all share the feature that the thrust of the plot is away from isolation and sadness, and towards contentment and love. That is an awesome feature for a book to have, and I am saying that as a girl who loves the sort of ending like The Secret History has, where it’s utterly grim and also a little ambiguous and strange. I love that sort of ending! But there are times in my life when I like to feel that the world trades in happy endings as well as sad ones.
Another good quality of Elinor Lipman is her gift with titles. She is not Tennessee Williams, but the woman has some solid titles. The Dearly Departed is a good title in general and a perfect title for the book, in that it captures both the sadness and the wry bewilderment the two main characters feel about their dead parents. The Pursuit of Alice Thrift is good because that name is perfect for that character, and because it’s a fussily articulated title to go with its fussily articulate protagonist. And! My favorite of the titles! My Latest Grievance. That is an awesome title. I was telling my mother I would make that the title of my memoir if I wrote a memoir. Since I am not going to write a memoir, I’m going to start a series of blog posts called My Latest Grievance, in which I complain about petty things that bother me, like the preponderance of mopey ballads in this year’s Eurovision line-up, and people who just stand there on the subway escalator so that you’re trapped behind them watching your train leave without you because these damn people wouldn’t follow the damn rules and just walk down the damn escalator.
Litlove (Litlove, if I haven’t said it lately, I think you’re great) very rightly says that Elinor Lipman belongs in the intelligent comfort read category, the same category in which I would place someone like Marisa de los Santos. If I tried to describe the plots of any of her books, they would sound predictable, and well, they are in a way, I guess (you know the anti-Semitic lady in The Inn at Lake Devine is going to get called on her bullshit), but they are such a joy to read that it doesn’t matter.
That’s my pitch in brief, I guess: Elinor Lipman is a joy. When I have books of hers in my library bag, I have to exercise great restraint in not pouncing upon them and gobbling them all up. I delay gratification, an activity I enjoy, and it feels like such a treat to finally get to read the books. Her backlist couldn’t be big enough to please me, but I’m delighted that she is still young, shares Oscar Wilde’s birthday, and puts out a new book every couple of years. Elinor Lipman! Make your life happier by reading her books!