Who’s Complaining?

By MAJS, Nicole Levy

Published October 04, 2013, issue of October 03, 2013.

In “I Can’t Complain: (All Too) Personal Essays,” Elinor Lipman reflects on her life with the same wry humor she uses to describe the characters in her novels.

Born and raised in Lowell, Lipman began her career with a college internship at “The Lowell Sun,” and wrote press releases for WGBH during the 1970s. A creative writing course she took at Brandeis at age 28 inspired her to publish her first novel, “Then She Found Me,” in 1990. This book was adapted to the screen in the 2008 movie of the same title, staring Helen Hunt, Bette Midler, Colin Firth and Matthew Boderick. Altogether, Lipman has published 14 fiction and non-fiction books.

Many of the short, personal essays in “I Can’t Complain” previously appeared in publications such as “Good Housekeeping,” “The Boston Globe,”” The New York Times,” “Yankee Magazine” and “Gourmet.”

Lipman is at her finest in “Boy Meets Girl.” In this piece, she wonders why eligible bachelors and bachelorettes today assume that they need to have the same pastimes as their prospective mates.

“Bridesmaids and siblings testify, too: how the featured bride and groom love the same obscure rock band, forage for the same mushroom, ski telemark versus alpine, see only the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder,” she writes.

If she were a matchmaker, Lipman says she would ask important questions, like how early each would arrive for a flight; whether one could put up with dirty dishes in the sink overnight; and whether one could sleep with the light on.

The second section of “I Can’t Complain” focuses on Lipman’s life as an author. She reveals embarrassing situations at literary events — such as when the speaker before her went on stage drunk.

Lipman touches upon her Jewishness in this work. She reminisces about her family socializing with non-Jewish neighbors, and talks frankly about intermarriage. She recounts the hostile reception she received from some at a Jewish Federation dinner in Worcester over one of her most famous novels, “The Inn at Lake Divine” (1999). Set in the 1960s, this book follows a Jewish teenage girl challenging anti-Semitic discrimination at a Vermont resort. Lipman became indignant after a woman at the event berated her for including the topic of intermarriage in the story.

At times, the essays in “I Can’t Complain” seem disjointed from one another. Yet throughout this memoir, Lipman relates the quirks that make her loved ones endearing. In the first essay, “Julia’s Child,” the author recalls the lengths to which her mother would go to avoid condiments. She also tells with wit how her late husband of 34 years, Dr. Robert Austin, would travel to the ends of the earth to find the exact ingredient listed in a recipe.

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