Saturday, September 05, 2009

Lady Lit, or I Ain't No Chick

Sometimes I get Elinor Lipman and Susan Isaacs confused in my head. They generally write quite different books, and their styles are fairly different--Isaacs goes for either light adventure stories or epic life-spanning personal histories with lots of dry verbal humor. Lipman is a little more "literary," in that her stories are generally smaller, more personal family stories (usually with a strong romance plot), with fewer dry jokes, but an intelligent and witty use of language. I'm not quite sure why I get them confused.

Anyway, I like a lot of Isaacs' work, but I haven't liked her more recent books. and Shining Through and Lily White are two of my frequent re-reads, but I found Any Place I Hang My Hat to be lackluster to the point of boring, and I couldn't even get past the first chapter of Past Perfect (ex-spy-turned-TV-writer-turned-neurotic-New-York-wife-and-mom, I'm exhausted). And somehow, my constant confusion made me doubt Lipman.

I should not have. Her expertise is in writing the character who sweeps into the life of her straightlaced protagonist and turns their life upside down. In Then She Found Me, it's a long-lost biological mother; in My Latest Grievance, it's the narrator's father's first wife. These books make me almost twitchy with anxiety--I like my neatly ordered life and would never dream of letting anyone like Isabel from Isabel's Bed into it--I love them, too.

So when I started The Family Man today, I was really nervous. Partly because I had my lingering disappointment with Susan Isaacs in the back of my mind, partly because it looked to be another book about someone who ignores what you want and everything you say and does whatever she damned well pleases with your life. But also because the jacket flap made the book sound kind of annoying. A single, fifty-something gay man living in New York reconnects with his ex-wife of many years ago and the young woman who was, for a brief time, his stepdaughter. Hi-jinks ensue.

Does this or does this not sound like kind of story where you have to watch a guy get bullied and manipulated by women who are out for his money, or having fun setting him up, or just teasing him mercilessly? The jacket copy goes on and it just sounds worse and worse, like I'm not going to like any of these characters.

But I was wrong--I love them all. The daughter, the father, even the memory of his deceased best friend. The ex is just annoying enough to complicate the plot without making me want to throw anything at all at the wall. I'm twirling blissfully around the living room, and breezing through this book. And I'll tell you, I could use a breeze, and am glad to have found one.


JMLC said...

I have read a bunch of E.L.'s stuff and I generally really like it. The Inn At Lake Devine remains one of my favorites. Didn't love My Latest Grievance, though it may have had more to do with when I was reading it.

Unknown said...

I own quite a few Lipman books having gone on a binge after buying The Inn at Lake Devine. I was slowly liking them less (although maybe I shouldn't have started with I.A.L.D), but by The Pursuit of Alice Thrift I was done. I hated it. I'd be willing to give this a try, as long as it's from the library! - Saralinda

LibraryHungry said...

The fact that The Inn at Lake Devine was so great does sort of spoil the rest when you read them after. I think her early ones are best--Isabel's Bed is pretty good, and Then She Found Me. If all I read of her was My Latest Grievance and The Pursuit of Alice Thrift, I wouldn't have gone back. And The Family Man is no IALD, but it's just got a similarly sweet nature. I like everyone in it; how often does that happen?