‘And what is all this about picking, anyway? Who’s picking? When I was in college, I had a list of what I wanted in a husband. A long list. I wanted a registered Democrat, a bridge player, a linguist with particular fluency in French, a subscriber to The New Republic, a tennis player. I wanted a man who wasn’t bald, who wasn’t fat, who wasn’t covered with too much body hair. I wanted a man with long legs and a small ass and laugh wrinkles around the eyes. Then I grew up and settled for a low-grade lunatic who kept hamsters.’
How can I have lived so many years on this earth and not read any Nora Ephron before? How? I LOVED this book. It’ll make you laugh, and make you stare into the middle distance as you remember a time your heart was broken. It’ll also make you want to make bacon hash and sour cream peach pie.
As I’m sure everyone knows, Heartburn is a novel about the collapse of a marriage. In fact, it’s a very funny novel about the collapse of a marriage. Ephron wrote it after the end of her marriage to Carl Bernstein, and it is often called ‘thinly veiled’ autobiography (as Ephron points out in the forward written not long before her death, nobody ever uses the ‘thinly veiled’ snipe with male writers).
Rachel Samstat is a Jewish cookery writer. She’s a few years into her second marriage, and heavily pregnant with the second child of said union, when she finds out that her husband is cheating on her. Not only cheating, he is in love with a very tall, very thin woman who is part of their Washington DC social circle. They are looking at houses together. Rachel’s reactions to this bombshell, which include fleeing to her father’s New York apartment; lots of comfort eating; going back into group therapy; going into labour early; spreading the rumour that the mistress has herpes; and trying to patch things back together before cutting her losses, veer from the rational to the bonkers, but all of them are understandable. She’s in a lot of pain, is very angry, and doesn’t attempt to hide it.
This is where the genius of this book lies. Ephron pulls no punches at all, and while the book is for the most part very funny, it’s also brutal in its depiction of how you feel when the rug is pulled out from under you:
‘The infidelity itself is small potatoes compared to the low-level brain damage that results when a whole chunk of your life turns out to have been completely different from what you thought it was.’
I found myself laughing out loud, wincing, reading sections to my patient husband, and underlining whole paragraphs every few pages. It really is absolute genius. I will be reading everything by her I can get my hands on, and might even watch When Harry Met Sally again. Nora Ephron. What a woman.