Heartburn by Nora Ephron (1983)

Love this lady and this funny book.

It’s Ephron’s story of finding out her husband is cheating on her while she’s pregnant. No, seriously, it really is very funny – Ephron has an amazing ability to laugh at herself and her life.

Love her mum Phoebe, too.

Famously, mum used to say to daughter Everything is copy. She was right: just say what happened.

Here’s a fine example.

[It’s just before Christmas. Their New York apartment has been ‘burglarized’ and the police arrive. Nora’s recounting…]

…the two policemen told us what they thought were a lot of rollicking stories about New Yorkers who’d been burglarized of all the presents under their Christmas trees. We all had a drink, and then we all had another, and four hours later my mother was singing ‘When the midnight choochoo leaves for Alabam’ ‘ and the policeman whose lap she was sitting on was taking little nips at her shoulder. Then she got up and did a tap dance to ‘Puttin’ On the Ritz’ and passed out in the middle of it. It was a fabulous pass-out as those things go. She was in midair when it happened – she had both her legs up to one side, and she’d just managed to click her heels together when her eyes clanged shut and she slid on one side of her leg to the floor. I put her to bed.

‘Was I very bad?’ she said on the way to the airport the next day.

‘Not really,’ I said.

‘Please say I was,’ she said.

Why’s this so funny. Twenty-five reasons off the top of my head…

  1. A mum getting sozzed.
  2. A mum getting pie-eyed with policemen – and her daughter – and vice versa.
  3. Nora and Phoebe didn’t think the policemen’s stories about stolen presents were as jolly as the policemen seemed to think.
  4. ‘Burglarized’ sounds so much more invasive than just ‘burgled’.
  5. Concept of stealing Christmas presents rather than anything else (ie risk the unknown bonanza better than the existing crap one can see around the apartment)
  6. Lovely rolling crescendo of a second sentence, including repetition of ‘all’: a drink, another, four hours of drinking, singing, lap-sitting, and a nipping policemen.
  7. A mum sitting in a policeman’s lap.
  8. Nipping not very policeman-like behaviour.
  9. Bowzered policemen.
  10. Roll reversal: mother behaving like a child.
  11. The use of choochoo instead of train.
  12. Tap-dancing to Puttin’ On the Ritz.
  13. Puttin’ on the Ritz is all Astaire-elegance and class and a lovely contrast to mum.
  14. Passing out in the middle of a tap dance.
  15. The fact that mother is in midair when she passes out.
  16. ‘…fabulous pass-out as those things go’ echoes the song Anything Goes
  17. Fabulous use of fabulous, with it’s implication of extraordinary large and wonderful.
  18. Perfectly timed beat between sentences: ‘…as those things go.’ [beat] ‘She was in midair when it happened…’
  19. The vision and exuberance of legs up to one side. Hard when sloshed.
  20. The clicking of the heels in midair (while one’s legs are to the side). Challenging when ripped.
  21. The instant finality of mother’s eyes clanging shut – in midair.
  22. Lovely alliteration of click and clanged.
  23. The comatose sliding to the floor.
  24. A daughter putting her mother to bed.
  25. The naughty-mummy naughtiness in Please say that I was.

That’s just one paragraph. One paragraph in 177 pages of bliss.

Thanks for being here.

Buy Heartburn (free delivery, cardboard wrapping)

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Book Bore.

Guy Nicholls, writer and book bore.

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