Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.) by Delia Ephron. Publisher: Blue Rider Press (September 17, 2013). Essay/Memoir. Hardcover. 224 pages. ISBN 978-0-399-16655-6.
“No question, I had an inbred arrogance about the culture I was raised in, about the worship of books, theater, writing and brains. My mother often said proudly, ‘We have books in every room.’ Yes, floor-to-ceiling shelves galore crammed with books. There were not artfully placed objets on our shelves. Every ounce of space was for the written word.”
From “Am I Jewish Enough?”
When Delia Ephron’s essay collection arrived at my door I was just finishing up her sister Hallie’s latest thriller. Talented sisters from a talented family. Set aside a few hours because once you start reading, you won’t want to stop. Delia tackles the profound to the superficial with wit, perception and charm. She maintains a steady wisdom-filled tone. She’s a woman who’s experienced plenty and shares mistakes, some secrets and reflects upon life lessons with those willing to listen.
I knew the Ephrons grew up in Los Angeles but didn’t know that Nora, Hallie, Delia and Amy’s parents wrote screenplays such as There’s No Business Like Show Business, The Jackpot, Carousel and Desk Set. But as Delia writes in “Why I Can’t Write About My Mother,” their mother was also a fierce alcoholic. One of those working alcoholics. Delia writes: “I believe having an alcoholic parent is not only something to write about, but that there is an obligation to do it. Growing up as that child is lonely, isolating, confusing, and damaging. There are lots of us. If I have the power by telling a story to make an isolated person less alone, that is a good thing. Besides, I don’t believe in protecting parents who drink—sympathizing, forgiving, but not protecting.”
In the heartbreaking and reminiscent essay “Losing Nora,” Ephron writes about her writing collaboration [You’ve Got Mail, This is My Life] with her competition older sister Nora who died from cancer last year. “Our lives were in some ways entirely separate and unknown to each other, in other ways like vines twisted together. Invading her privacy is not something I want to do.” In other words, the essay’s about their working relationship, their sisterly bonds. You’ll read nothing about Nora’s battle with cancer. That, Delia explains is not her story to tell. “Blame It On the Movies” quaintly chronicles Delia’s introduction to romantic comedies and how she’d compare everything relationship going forward to a movie. She writes: “So there was this problem in my first marriage along with many others. I was actually in love with a city, not a person. No movie prepared me for city love.” [Well said, Delia, well said and completely understandable.]
“Am I Jewish Enough?” allows Delia to delve into the religious question when she’s asked to speak at an exclusive book club to promote her latest novel. She’s never been very strict about her religion and now questions whether she’s welcome into the fold, so to speak. It’s provocative and immensely contemplative. One of the best essays in the collection. “I felt the oppression of religion. Of any organization that gathers us because we’re one religion and not another. Because what I really think is that there is too much religion these days. Too much ‘I’m this and you’re that.’ Fanatics are everywhere.”
The essay “Bakeries” turns into a brilliant mediation on having it all. As women, whether we choose to marry or not. Whether we choose to have children or not. We still get caught in the debate how far to lean in or not. Whether we’re too bitchy or too much of push-overs. Delia writes: “One of the most revolting parts of the American female version–and there are many revolting parts—is that having it all defines “all” in one way: marriage, children, career. It assumes all women want the same thing. Success rests on achieving three goals (life viewed not as a continuum, but an endpoint), and these goals, as it happens, are exactly the ones that will declare you a success at your high school reunion.” Absolutely. This is why I generally avoid Facebook and get super depressed at high school reunions.
Delia and I are Twitter friends (at least in MY mind—bonding with #TheHairReport) so reading her essay collection just brought us closer.
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Blue Rider Press.