I read about Elinor Lipman when Other Jenny recommended not just The Family Man but Lipman’s entire backlist as “intelligent comfort reading.” She was so enthusiastic and so articulate about what was wonderful about Lipman that I was convinced to try one, and I put The Family Man on my list.
Now, I admit I was a little — well, skeptical’s not exactly the word, but perhaps reserved when I picked this up. See, one of my very favorite authors is Laurie Colwin, who writes books of a similar nature, and I admit that I was thinking, “Well, maybe this book will be okay, but it’s not going to be any Laurie Colwin.” And then, about forty pages in, I realized I was having to put down the book every few moments to let the sheer happiness overflow. She may not be Laurie Colwin — Colwin is more wistful, more wry, and Lipman is light, light as raspberry mousse — but I have found a new author for pure pleasure.
The Family Man is about Henry Archer, a gay lawyer whose twenty-five-years ex-wife Denise and long-estranged daughter Thalia have both, separately, come back into his life. Thalia turns out to be wonderful, and she and Henry begin spending a lot of time together. Denise, in a bid to win Henry’s good graces (which he is very reluctant to give), sets Henry up on a date with her friend Todd, essentially only because they’re both gay. Thalia, an aspiring actress, accepts a secret gig to play the part of the girlfriend of an unappealing actor in order to make him seem more appealing to the public. Shenanigans — sweet, lovely, hilarious shenanigans — ensue. It’s slapstick, sometimes, but it’s Preston Sturges slapstick: perfectly timed, generous-hearted, and laceratingly intelligent.
I loved so many things about this book. I adored the blossoming romance between Henry and Todd. I loved Thalia, who was perfectly over-the-top and loving. I loved Denise, who could never get it right: always with her foot in her mouth, no filter between brain and blurt, braying even at her third husband’s funeral, yet somehow forgivable and always trying for connection and reconciliation. More than anything else, perhaps, I loved that things sometimes went screwy, but they never really went wrong: if someone was acting like a jerk, the people around them could use their common sense like human beings and see they were acting like a jerk! If someone took a risk, it sometimes went all right! If someone made a goof, it didn’t always ruin their lives! These were lovely, friendly people, making connections and learning to love each other, sometimes despite what you might expect. And for a book that is so apparently light, there’s quite a bit going on under the surface, about our true selves, and the roles we play to each other.
Lipman’s writing is smart and funny. She doesn’t have Colwin’s poignancy, but she doesn’t need to; she writes about real emotions in a way that is unsentimental, gentle, and light as meringue. I am just so sheerly delighted that Other Jenny recommended this to me, and that I read it, and that I have more of her to read.