About Alice

About Alice

by Calvin Trillin


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400066155
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/26/2006
Pages: 96
Sales rank: 294,629
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Calvin Trillin has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1963. He lives in New York.


New York, New York

Date of Birth:

December 5, 1935

Place of Birth:

Kansas City, Missouri


B.A., Yale University, 1957

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Now that it’s fashionable to reveal intimate details of married life, I can state publicly that my wife, Alice, has a weird predilection for limiting our family to three meals a day.
—Alice, Let’s Eat

There was one condolence letter that made me laugh. Naturally, a lot of them made me cry. Some of those, oddly enough, were from people who had never met Alice. They had become familiar with her as a character in books and magazine pieces I’d written—light books and magazine pieces about traveling or eating or family life. Virtually all those letters began in the same way, with a phrase like “Even though I never really knew Alice. . . .” I was certain of what Alice’s response would have been. “They’re right about that,” she would have said. “They never knew me.”

I once wrote that tales about writers’ families tend to have a relation to real life that can be expressed in terms of standard network-television fare, on a spectrum that goes from sitcoms to Lifetime movies, and that mine were sitcoms. Now that I think of it, maybe they were more like the Saturday-morning cartoons. Alice played the role of the mom—the voice of reason, the sensible person who kept everything on an even keel despite the antics of her marginally goofy husband. Years ago, at a conference of English teachers where we were both speakers, the professor who did the introductions said something like “Alice and Bud are like Burns and Allen, except she’s George and he’s Gracie.” Yes, of course, the role she played in my stories was based on the role she played in our family—our daughters and I sometimes called her T.M., which stood for The Mother—but she didn’t play it in the broad strokes of a sitcom mom. Also, she was never completely comfortable as the person who takes responsibility for keeping things on an even keel; that person inevitably misses out on some of the fun. (“I feel the need to break out of the role of straight person,” she said in a Nation review of Alice, Let’s Eat that cautioned readers against abandoning long-planned European vacations in order to scour the country for “the perfect roast polecat haunch.”) The sitcom presentation sometimes made her sound stern as well as wise, and she was anything but stern. She had something close to a child’s sense of wonderment. She was the only adult I ever knew who might respond to encountering a deer on a forest path by saying, “Wowsers!”

Once, during a question-and-answer period that followed a speech I had given at the Herbst Theatre, in San Francisco, someone asked how Alice felt about the way she was portrayed in my books and articles. I said that she thought the portrayal made her sound like what she called “a dietitian in sensible shoes.” Then the same questioner asked if Alice was in the audience, and, when I said she was, he asked if she’d mind standing up. Alice stood. As usual, she looked smashing. She didn’t say anything. She just leaned over and took off one of her shoes—shoes that looked like they cost about the amount of money required in some places to tide a family of four over for a year or two—and, smiling, waved it in the air. She wasn’t a dietitian in sensible shoes, and she would have been right in saying that the people whose exposure to her had been through my stories didn’t know her. Still, in the weeks after she died I was touched by their letters. They may not have known her, but they knew how I felt about her. It surprised me that they had managed to divine that from reading stories that were essentially sitcoms. Even after I’d taken in most episodes of The Honeymooners, after all, it had never occurred to me to ponder the feelings Ralph Kramden must have had for Alice Kramden. Yet I got a lot of letters like the one from a young woman in New York who wrote that she sometimes looked at her boyfriend and thought, “But will he love me like Calvin loves Alice?”

The letter that made me laugh was from Roger Wilkins. By the time of Alice’s death, Roger occupied a chair of history and American culture at George Mason University, but in the seventies he had been on the editorial board of The New York Times. In that period, I’d sometimes join the regular lunches he had with the late Richard Harris—a remarkable investigative reporter for The New Yorker who had the aggressively unsentimental worldview often found among people in his line of work. Alice and Roger became acquainted when she accompanied me to a conference I was covering in New Orleans. In off hours, when we’d gather around the hotel swimming pool, she and Roger sometimes had long, serious conversations. It wasn’t unusual for me to find Alice having long, serious conversations with people I’d been bantering with for years. She got engaged with people’s lives. If she said to a friend’s son or daughter, “How’s school?” she wasn’t just being polite; she wanted details, and she wasn’t shy about offering advice. If people we were visiting mentioned that they’d been thinking about renovating their house, Alice was right on the case, room by room. In such architectural conversations, she could get bossy, and sometimes I felt obliged to warn our hosts that one of her characteristic gestures—the gesture she used when she was saying something like “You have to open all of this up”—was remarkably similar to the gesture you’d use to toss money into the wind.

She wasn’t among those whose response to tragedy or loss was limited to offering the conventional expressions of sympathy before moving on with their own lives. In 1988, an old friend phoned us to say that his grown daughter, a young woman we’d known since she was a child, had been raped by an intruder. This was a dozen years after Alice had been operated on for lung cancer, and among the things that she wrote to our friend’s daughter was that having lung cancer and being raped were comparable only in that both were what she called “realizations of our worst nightmares.” She said that there was some relief at surviving what you might have thought was not survivable. “No one would ever choose to have cancer or to be raped,” she wrote. “But you don’t get to choose, and it is possible at least to understand what Ernest Becker meant when he said something like ‘To live fully is to live with an awareness of the rumble of terror that underlies everything,’ or to begin to understand the line in ‘King Lear’—‘Ripeness is all.’ You might have chosen to become ripe less dramatically or dangerously, but you can still savor ripeness.” Alice had a large envelope in which she kept copies of letters like that—along with copies of some letters she had sent the girls and copies of poems we had written for her on birthdays and documents like the announcement of a prize for community service that Abigail, our older daughter, had been awarded at Yale and an astonishing letter of recommendation that a professor had provided for Sarah, our younger daughter, when she applied for her first job after getting her M.S.W. On the envelope was written “Important Stuff.”

In his condolence letter, Roger talked partly about that engaged quality in Alice, but he also got around to her appearance. “She was nice and she was concerned and she was smart and when she talked to you, she was thinking about you, and, also, she was so very pretty,” he wrote in September of 2001, a few days after Alice died. “I always thought of you as a wonderful guy, but still I couldn’t figure out how you managed to get Alice. Harris once told me it was just dumb luck.” When I read that, I burst out laughing. Harris had nailed it again.

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About Alice 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
pw0327 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I have never been in true, deep love. And I suppose what Trillin had with his wife Alice is a glimpse, a small glimpse of true, deep love. Art least I hope it is. In Calvin Trillin's inimitable hand, his life with and his love for Alice shines through the pages brilliantly. He described Alice early on aas having a glow about her, her feelings for her also has a glow about it too. The book isn't very long. It clocks in at a mere 78 pages but he said all he had to say in that period. The book is in kind of a free form format, where Trillin goes into how they met, how they came to be married and what their lives were like in the early days. He also plays amateur psychologist and tries to analyze Alice's personality via her father's business failings etc. But he also skips around raising specifics about Alice, her deeds, her love of her kids, and her personality. It is at once touching and warm. It makes me yearn for a love like this between two people who have the intelligence and warmth to realize that this relationship of theirs is uncommon and to appreciate each other as seemingly no other has before.
twryan72 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I loved this because it was a long and beautiful love letter to his wife. Gives you faith in marriage!
gwendolyndawson on LibraryThing 10 months ago
A touching in memorium to the author's wife, who recently died of lung cancer. The couple's relationship is tenderly depicted, but I found myself not liking Alice all that much. She is definitely a complex person, but she also seems a bit superficial and showy at times.
realbigcat on LibraryThing 10 months ago
A charming sweet tribute by Calvin Trillin about his wife Alice. I had not read much by Trillin but apparently Alice was the subject or part of many of his articles. What makes this book nice is that it portrays Alice as a person you would love to have as a friend. She has the perfect blend of amazingly down to earth qualities. Unfortunately, as seems to happen to the nicest people the evil of cancer hit her. And as you would expect she met it head on. It's no doubt that Trillian loved his wife dearly. It's nice to read a tribute about someone other than a famous actor, celebrity or politician. The book is short but well worth the read and it will leave you feeling better for having read it.
schusm on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Beautiful essays about Calvin's wonderful wife, Alice who died at the age of 63, after her long struggle (although she wouldn't have described it that way). Written with humor and grace, never overly maudlin, Alice comes alive on these pages. Lovely.
burnit99 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Calvin Trillin's memoir for his beloved wife, Alice. A slim little book, but moving, loving and humorous, it portrays a woman of strong personality and compassion who was never boring or bored with life. He writes in this book that he always wrote his books for her; if he could impress her (as he never stopped striving for), he had it made. After reading this memoir, I too was impressed. She must have been quite a woman to know.
Marliesd on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Sad, funny, touching--I loved this. I listened to it on CD, read by the author.
thejazzmonger on LibraryThing 10 months ago
What a beautiful, readable, funny, emotional, touching book. I always loved Calvin Trillin. Over the years, he never ever wore thin, writing about family, growing up, food and the quirks of society. Always, ALWAYS, with humor.About Alice has all those elements but it is, at heart, a profound love story. He is remarkably open and lucid about all the ways that he loved Alice. Without ever being grim, or maudlin, despite the fact that he lost Alice to a persistent cancer, he shares, in a very forthright way, what a delightful wife, mother, friend & intellect was Alice.One of my favorite parts is when he talks about what it is like to be with an extremely attractive woman, to watch the way other men react to her. I have plenty of personal experience with this and he helped me see things that I "knew" but had never been able to articulate.Any man interested in really knowing about love ought take this book to heart.
phyllis01 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
A touching remembrance of Trillin's wife. Trillin's clear, distinct voice brings Alice and the geat partnership they shared to life. It's a slim little book, readable in a few hours, that will stay with you for a long time.
adamallen on LibraryThing 10 months ago
About Alice is a very touching (and very brief) book by Calvin Trillin on the life, personality, and more aptly put - spirit - of his deceased wife Alice. Apparently Alice has been the subject of several of Mr. Trillin's works and his loyal readers have gotten to know her quite well over the years. Personally, I picked up About Alice so that I could get a glimpse into the grieving and the love of the author for his wife. While that may sound a bit macabre, or conversely, even a bit mushy, I've always found that I enjoy movies, books, music, and art most when I'm moved by them. I want goose pimples, a strong laugh, heart-wrenching, and a fear of the dark. I want to be affected. While I also read to learn, I want my non-educational reading to allow me some escapism. About Alice delivered.**SPOILER ALERT (Highlight)**Alice is described in light detail and across the spectrum of their marriage. Calvin exposes some of Alice's flaws but of course, he focuses on her many positive traits. There was one characteristic that really struck a chord for me - Alice was passionate. She was quick to bring up a topic in which she held a firm belief if given the opportunity. She liked to engage in friendly debate regardless of the location or the stature of the person with whom she was conversing. She showed passion for her beliefs in this regard. She also showed passion for her family and friends. As Trillin puts it, "When it came to trying to decide which theories of child-rearing were highly beneficial and which were absolutely ruinous to the future of your child - a subject of considerable discussion among some parents we knew - we agreed on a simple notion: your children are either the center of your life or they're not, and the rest is commentary."My favorite quote from the book was:"At camp, Alice had a tendency to gravitate toward the child who needed the most help, and L. was one of those. 'Last summer, the camper I got closest to, L., was a magical child who was severly disabled,' Alice wrote. 'She had two genetic diseases, one which kept her from growing and one which kept her from digesting any food. She had to be fed through at tube at night and she had so much difficulty walking that I drove her around in a golf cart a lot. We both liked that. One day, when we were plaing duck-duck-goose, I was sitting behind her and she asked me to hold her mail for her while she took her turn to be chased around the circle. It took her a while to make the circuit and I had time to see that on top of the pile was a note from her mom. Then I did something truly awful, which I'm reluctant now to reveal. I decided to read the note. I simply had to know what this child's parents could have done to make her so spectacular, to make her the most optimistic, most enthusiastic, most hopeful human being I had ever encountered. I snuck a quick look at the note, and my eyes fell onto this sentence: 'If God had given us all of the children in the world to choose from, L., we would only have chosen you.' Before L. got back to her place in the circle, I showed the note to Bud, who was sitting next to me. 'Quick. Read this,' I whispered. 'It's the secret of life.'"I think that quote sums up Alice quite well.***** END OF SPOILERS *****With regards to Mr. Trillin himself, I commend him on this lovely little piece of work. My only deduction in the rating was due to the brevity of the book. I wanted more. Perhaps that's my shortcoming having not read his other Alice works. Nonetheless, it's a book that should be handed to all couples before they get married with a note in it that states - "This is what love really looks like. Make it your goal in life to get here."When compared with many other friends, family, and acquaintances, I would suggest (and this has been suggested by others) that my wife and I have a very special relationship. I believe it is similar in many ways, albeit shorter in duration, to the Trilli
harveywals on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Such a disappointment. CT's love for his wife comes through clearly - so why did he focus so relentlessly on her physical good looks as her distinguishing characteristic?
AsYouKnow_Bob on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Their marriage gave us all hope.
mplreference on LibraryThing 10 months ago
This is a delightful book. Reading about Alice gives me something to strive for as a person. I thought it might be depressing, but it's not at all. It's a lovely story about an amazing woman.
Suso711 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Every woman should be blessed with a man who is able - and willing - to write such a loving, poignant tribute to her. Trillin's love for Alice shines through every page. I think it says less about Alice than it does about him. He says he was lucky to have her. I say she was lucky to have him!
risuena More than 1 year ago
I both love and feel disappointed by this book. I'm disappointed that this book is so short. It seemed like it just started and it already ended. I get a glimpse of Alice, what it's like to know Alice, and yet I still feel like an outsider, a point the author does mention. That being said, I love everything else about it. I prepared myself for crying before I read it and found, surprisingly, how uplifting, sweet, empowering, and endearing the author's words were. He didn't evoke sadness about his wife's life, any regrets they may have had, or ask for sympathy from his readers. He portrayed how rich their life was, how happy they were together, how deeply they loved each other, how they embraced every moment, and lived very fulfilling lives. The way the author can express himself and convey the love he has for his wife is truly amazing and touching. To be thought of that way or remembered like that brings one to believe in real long lasting love.
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AudreyCooper More than 1 year ago
This book was just too darn short. It left me wanting to know so much more about Calvin Trillin's wife, Alice; so sad that she had died when we had just met. This is nothing like The Year of Magical Thinking; but then Calvin Trillin is nothing like Joan Didion. The book is a brief introduction to a wonderful wife and the good life these two had together. She was a little eccentric, and pretty. I like that, that she was pretty and cared about being pretty. And smart. And stricken with a disease usually associated with smoking, but a non-smoker. And I so like that Calvin Trillin thought to write about her after she could no longer approve.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
a wonderful, touching tale about marriage and love. a little short - left you wanting to read more.
HWTrendell More than 1 year ago
This literally is the book that I wanted to write about my own wife, Mary, who died of breast cancer the day after the new millenium. Every page of my copy has at least one teapdrop on it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I wish I'd known her. Some five years after her death, The New Yorker magazine writer par excellence Calvin Trillin has penned a loving, touching portrait of his late wife, Alice Stewart Trillin, whom he married in 1965. Mr. Trillin has claimed that his work is not as good since she died as she used to edit his drafts. That's a bit hard to believe as while I've not read all of his articles and books, I have eagerly consumed several and found 'About Alice' to be as impeccably crafted as his earlier works. He's a writer blessed with a goodly share of humor, keen observation, and the ability to make even the most everyday things, such as the quest for a parking space, intriguing. Those who have read Mr. Trillin are familiar with Alice as she has appeared in many of his writings. We believed we knew her. Not really. As Mr. Trillin once noted in looking over the letters of condolence he received. So many felt that they knew her a fact he believes she'd deny. She felt he portrayed her as a sort of a dietician in sensible shoes. In fact, he noted this description of her in a speech he once made and was asked whether or not she was in the audience and if so, would she stand? Stand she did without saying a word, simply waving a very expensive high heeled shoe in the air. She was, as he describes her, a mother who thought that if you didn't go to every performance of your child's school play, 'the county will come and take the child.' She was warm, extremely intelligent, and generous, sometimes overlooking the inflation in a repairman's bill with, 'He doesn't have a very nice life. And we're so lucky.' They were opposites for him, it was love at first sight and obviously still is. 'About Alice' is, of course, about a remarkable woman but it is also the story of a marriage. As read by the one person who should do so, Mr. Trillin, it's a book that should be heard by everyone who is in love, all who were in love, and those who want to be. - Gail Cooke
Guest More than 1 year ago
The reader will admire and enjoy this treasured story of their marriage, one rich with love for one another, diversity, courage, enrichment, and affection--uplifting, honest, and a remarkable book.