I Can’t Complain: book review

can't complain

I Can’t Complain by Elinor Lipman. Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (April 16, 2013). Essay/nonfiction. Hardcover. ISBN 978-0-547-57620-6.

“Will I blurb a book because its editor implores me charmingly? No. Will I take a stab at it? Yes. When do I decide? I read until something stops me: Clunky sentences. No life. No story. Too much story. Too many italics. Too earnest or pretentious or writerly.”
–“Confessions of a Blurb Slut” from I Can’t Complain by Elinor Lipman

Elinor Lipman writes wryly humorous and astutely observant novels. Previous published in The Boston Globe [“I Married a Gourmet,” “The Best Man,” “Ego Boundaries”], Good Housekeeping [“Good Grudgekeeping”], The New York Times [“Confessions of a Blurb Slut”] and various other periodicals and anthologies, this collection of essays provides insight into her personal life– family, marriage, friendships, writing career and her husband’s death.

She debates the complexities to RSVPing in “No Thank You, I Think”—“I have a companion quirk to the saying of no: I must explain why I’m turning down an invitation, lest the potential host guess the truth, that I simply don’t want to go. I always RSVP with an excellent reason and ask the same in return, a little emoting and a lot of regret.” Describes growing up the sole Jewish family amid Irish in a Lowell neighborhood with a St. Patrick’s Day column titled “A Tip of the Hat to the Old Block”—“I still don’t know why Father Shanley regularly joined us for corned beef and cabbage, but it might have been his preference for deli-style over rectory-style boiled meat.”

In a section of essays, Lipman contemplates being a writer and the publishing business from naming characters [“Which One is He Again?”] to the expectations for blurbing books [“Confessions of a Blurb Slut”] to the long journey from novel to the screen [“My Book the Movie”]. Then there’s tackling more serious issues in “I Touch a Nerve”– “Sometimes I add this, hoping to broaden the topic and get me off the hot seat: A novel about a Jewish family is a Jewish novel. (I name a few.) One cannot bring forth an American novel about the Everyman Family and name them the Shapiros unless the author is making a point. Ethnicity, religion, and race can’t be dropped casually into a novel as if casting a television commercial with a multicultural aim.”

She’s quite witty and endearing. Lipman writes in a conversational tone that makes you want to befriend her, confide in her, drink tea and chat for hours. You can savor the essays over time or enjoy in one sitting and return to them frequently and share them.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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