The Family Man

family manI 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.

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17 Responses to The Family Man

  1. Jeanne says:

    I haven’t read this one yet, but I read almost anything by this author. I have a few of her Tess Monaghan mysteries unread–saved up in my bedside table in case I get sick and need something right there to read in bed.

    • Jenny says:

      I was going to be all shocked that that was the same person, but it’s not! At least not according to the Wikiality. The Tess Monaghan mysteries are by Laura Lippman, and the one I just read is Elinor Lipman (one P). So you’ll have to try someone new and equally likely to delight you when you’re sick!

      • Jeanne says:

        Oh my…I read And Then She Found Me without realizing that I mixed up these two names. And you’d think I’d remember the name Elinor, since it’s a form of my favorite name!

  2. Lisa says:

    I’m a big fan of Then She Found Me and also The Inn at Lake Devine, but I’ve missed her most recent novels.

  3. Dorian says:

    I adore Laure Colwin, so this post really has me curious. Many thanks for such an intriguing review.

    • Jenny says:

      So nice to find another Laurie Colwin fan! These books have a similar flavor, but a little less dry, a little less poignant. I’d definitely recommend them.

  4. I just found your blog-love it. I enjoy Lipman also. You should try her others.

  5. Jenny says:

    I said “HA!” when I saw this post pop up in my Google Reader! Hooray, Proper Jenny! I am so pleased you liked this book! It’s still my favorite of Elinor Lipman’s books, but all of them tend to have that same general sweetness to them. She’s got a new one coming out soon as well, I think.

    • Jenny says:

      Thank you so much for the recommendation — it’s great to have a source of comfort reading, where you know you’re going to enjoy it when you pick it up. I have a few of those, but most of them are so DENSE (Nabokov, etc) that it’s nice to have something that’s not a five-star Michelin masterpiece, too, if you feel me.

  6. litlove says:

    Another fan of Lipman here. I read The Ladies’ Man years ago (I think it was called that) and then plowed through most of her other novels. She is fabulous comfort food.

    • Jenny says:

      I’m all out of Colwin (argh!) so I’m very pleased to have these! And comfort is just the right word for it.

  7. I heard Elinor Lipman speak at a library conference once, and she was just delightful. If you ever get a chance to see her, I recommend doing so. I liked The Family Man too, and should probably try some of her other books as well.

    • Jenny says:

      How nice to hear that she was as lovely in person as she is as an author. I will read whatever my library has on the shelf of hers next!

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