Elinor Lipman (@elinorlipman) is the author of nine novels about contemporary American society, including The Pursuit of Alice Thrift, The Dearly Departed, The Ladies' Man, The Inn at Lake Devine, Isabel's Bed, The Way Men Act, Then She Found Me, My Latest Grievance, and a collection of stories, Into Love and Out Again. In 2009 she released her latest novel The Family Man, which was reviewed in the New York Times Book Review and about which NPR said, "[Lipman] writes dialogue that sizzles with playful, effortless wit." She has been called "the diva of dialogue" (People) and "the last urbane romantic" (Chicago Tribune). Her essays have appeared in the Boston Globe Magazine, Gourmet, Chicago Tribune, andThe New York Times' Writers on Writing series. She received the New England Booksellers' 2001 fiction award for a body of work. Other honors include the New England Book Award and The Poetry Center's Fiction Prize. Her novel Then She Found Me was adapted into a 2007 feature film, directed by and starring Helen Hunt. Her novels The Ladies' Man and The Pursuit of Alice Thrift are in pre-production as feature films. Born and raised in Lowell, Massachusetts, Lipman graduated from Simmons College where she studied journalism. She lives in Western Massachusetts and Manhattan.
Elinor Lipman began writing fiction in her late 20s, when she enrolled in a creative writing workshop. Since then, she has written a string of bestselling novels, as well as short stories and book reviews. Her books are more than just romantic comedies; Lipman writes entertaining characters who enlighten the plot with their human idiosyncrasies.
Her first release was a collection of short stories, titled Into Love and Out Again (1986). This charismatic collection of stories contains early elements of the thing that would make Lipman a loved novelist: finely drawn characters and page-turning plot twists. The theme of these sixteen stories is the stuff of modern domestic life -- marriage, pregnancy, weight gain and true love.
When Lipman released Then She Found Me (1990), Publisher's Weekly called the debut "...an enchanting tale of love in assorted forms ... a first novel full of charm, humor and unsentimental wisdom." When 36-year-old April Epner suffers the death of both of her adoptive parents, she seeks solace in her quiet, academic life as a Latin teacher in a Boston high school. Bernice Graverman is April's opposite. She's a brash, gossipy talk show host who lives her life with all the tranquility of a stampede. She's also April's birth mother. Lipman's story of their mother and child reunion is unforgettable.
In The Way Men Act (1993), Melinda LeBlanc returns home to Massachusetts to work in the family business. She finds a friend in neighboring shop owner, Libby, and has a one-sided love infatuation with Dennis Vaughan, another small town shop owner. Lipman takes on small town values by portraying the story's interracial relationship with wit and intelligence.
Filled with surprising friendships, Isabel's Bed (1995) tells the story of Harriet Mahoney, a writer at the end of her rope. When Harriet's long-term lover leaves unexpectedly, she moves from Manhattan to Cape Cod for an unusual writing assignment. Harriet has agreed to write the life story of tabloid darling Isabel Krug, a vivacious woman who earned her fifteen minutes of fame for her role as the other woman in a high-profile murder case. Their unusual partnership is the basis for this twisting, hilarious comedy of friendship and trust.
The Inn at Lake Devine (1998) is loosely based on a true story. The serious issue of anti-Semitism is treated with humor -- something Lipman is able to do so wonderfully in all her novels. When Natalie Marx's family is denied entry into the Inn at Lake Devine in Vermont, she plans revenge. But her plans are complicated by a friendship with Robin, fiancé to the son of the Inn's owners. Lipman's deft treatment of the play between discrimination and friendship creates a novel whose characters and setting may as well walk straight off the pages; and readers will find themselves laughing at the most serious of issues.
A committed spinster, Adele Dobbin is reunited with the man who left her at the altar thirty years earlier in The Ladies' Man (1999). Nash Harvey arrives, unannounced of course, on Adele's doorstep, and brings chaos into the lives of Adele and her sisters (also single, aging baby-boomers). In a rousing game of sexual politics, Nash unintentionally forces the sisters, particularly Adele, to examine their desires. Five distinct plot lines weave together seamlessly around Nash and his haphazard, womanizing lifestyle.
Sunny's homecoming in The Dearly Departed (2001) is equally life-altering. When her well-loved mother passes away, an entire small town mourns her departure. Back at the scene of her unhappy teenage years, Sunny dreads facing her former classmates, employers and so-called friends. What she finds is unsettling, but in a healthy way: the small town and its citizens are not nearly as malicious or clueless as she mythologized. Likewise, she realizes, neither was her mother. In a touching blend of social commentary, family drama and romantic impulses, Sunny learns that you can go home again.
The Pursuit of Alice Thrift (2003) is classic Lipman. Serious and shy, Alice aspires to be a philanthropic surgeon, using her skills for charity more than personal gain. That is, if she can make it through the rest of her medical internship. Alice is shaken (and confused) when she falls in love with an eccentric, foul-mouthed fudge salesman. But don't expect too much sentimentality here: Lipman gives away the ending in the first chapter, telling readers that the relationship was kaput, but the fun in reading this book is discovering why the two characters even glanced at each other in the first place. It's a great read -- Lipman places Alice on an unthinkable, yet totally believable path and we get to watch her find her way through.
Good To Know
In our interview with Lipman, she shared some fun facts about herself with us:
"I was nearly fired from my second job, which was writing press releases for Boston's public television station. I couldn't do anything right in the eyes of my newly promoted and therefore nervous boss. I quit after three months, one step ahead of the axe, feeling like an utter failure."
"Tom Hanks and his production company have optioned my fifth novel, The Ladies' Man. Robert Benton (Bonnie and Clyde, Kramer vs. Kramer, Nobody's Fool, Places in the Heart, Billy Bathgate, The Human Stain) is signed on as director and screenwriter."
"I was runner-up for the Best Actress award at Lowell High School in Lowell, Massachusetts, class of '68, after playing Gabrielle (the Bette Davis role) in The Petrified Forest and Elaine (the ingénue/niece) in Arsenic and Old Lace. And I was grievance chairman for the staff union when I worked for the Massachusetts Teachers Association in the late 1970s. Both of these inclinations come in handy to this day."
"I knit all the time."
"I wear a pedometer, aiming for five miles a day -- don't be too impressed; that includes walking around my house and food shopping. Sometimes I walk no farther than my own driveway because I can hear the phone ring -- 12 round-trips equals one mile."
"I cook quite seriously, which I think is an antidote to the writing -- i.e., I finish the project in an hour or two and get feedback immediately."
"I watch golf on television, although I don't golf -- except for visits to the driving range in spurts."
"I wake up at 6:00 a.m. no matter what time I go to bed."
"I was a roving guard on the Lowell Hebrew Community Center's girls' basketball team all through high school. My specialty was stealing the ball, but my only shot was a lay-up."
Northampton, Massachusetts, and New York, New York
Date of Birth:
October 16, 1950
Place of Birth:
A.B., Simmons College, 1972; Honorary Doctor of Letters, Simmons College, 2000
Read an Excerpt
A Note from the Poet
I apologize. Like you, I thought Twitter was for movie stars, egomaniacs, and nobodies in need of giving their inner musings a megaphone. Then I went to a social networking lecture in June of 2011—not because I was interested, but because the panelists were friends and I wanted to be collegial. They were all believers, and cited many examples of Twitter stars with hundreds of thousands of followers, cult-like.
“You’d be good at it,” one said to me on the way out. She mentioned “cleverness,” and “way with words.” And true to what an editor once confided (“An author never forgets a compliment”), I said I’d sign up/sign on—whatever one did.
I posted my first tweet a few days later, coincident with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcing passage of New York’s same-sex marriage bill. That was good; it didn’t reference me, my novels, or the chicken I was fricasseeing. I told my son I was Twittering. “Tweeting, Ma,” he corrected. Soon I had two followers.
The next morning, at my kitchen table, I thought: Political tweets in rhyme? I had bona fi des, didn’t I? I’d had a long rhyming faux valentine “from” Bill to Hillary Clinton published in Huffington Post, and a rhyming homage to Michelle Obama’s clothes that appeared on a website devoted to exactly that topic. I’d been obsessed with presidential politics since my early intense crush on John F. Kennedy, and I had published a series of blowhard op-ed pieces in the Boston Globe in ‘08. So without enough self-reflection, I pledged to post one partisan political tweet a day until the election. I should’ve counted how far away November 6, 2012 was (499 days) and I should have promised only a five-day week. But a pledge is a pledge. I used Yom Kippur 2011 as an excuse to take one day off and am desperately looking forward to Yom Kippur 2012.
Did I have a goal, other than entertaining my fellow political junkies? A book would be nice, I thought. I asked the editor of my novels, who murmured something about shelf-life and putting all her energy into my fiction. I did not, in bookselling parlance, go out with it. Facebook friends often wrote under my daily poems, “Book book book.” I wrote back, “Don’t think so, unless it’s construction paper and yarn.”
Then this storybook thing happened: In Boston, not long ago, in the middle of a very loud party, Beacon Press’s publisher and editorial director (translation: can make a book deal all by herself ) said, “Someone’s doing your tweets as a book, right?”
I said “Why, no.”
“Well, I am,” she said. And exactly four months later, this preemie is born.
Actually, I love writing these. I love rhyming, that out-of-fashion art form. I am proud to have met syllabic challenges like “Blagojevich,” “Callista,” “Tiffany’s,” and to have rhymed “Santorum” in a believable context with “Purim.” I even like the 140-character limit. It’s easier now than it was at the beginning. I tell myself, it’s a daily trip to the mental gym. And no book of mine has been more fun in the making.
I chose my favorites and left out the random ones that stepped off the campaign trail. Actual headlines were added for context and to put the reader on the right bus to Crazytown.
P.S.—I am very fond of the Republicans who buy my novels, and I hope one day to win back their votes.
A Selection of Tweets
Michele is NOT a flake, Chris Wallace!
God’s’ endorsement--plenty solace.
The nerve you had* re her IQ.
She went to Oral Roberts U!
*Bachmann to Wallace: apology not accepted
* * *
I Skyped with Herman Cain last night,
& asked if he’d be mine.*
A tad uptight, he didn’t bite.
His answer? “Nein-Nein-Nein!”
*before his lady troubles started.
* * *
A landmark day! A joy to tweet,
His evolution is complete.
Go forth & wed! All “I do’s” equal!
Don’t-ask-don’t-tell gets gutsy sequel.