The Pursuit of Alice Thrift

pursuit of aliceThis is the story of an unbalanced romance. It is the story of a fudge salesman (and maybe a con man — we’re not sure) doggedly pursuing a surgeon, for no reason she (or we, at first) can see. When Ray Russo meets Alice Thrift, she is an isolated intern with no social life:

How had I gotten so appallingly ineffective with actual people? I thought I had a nice way about me — I was particularly adept at delivering good-news bulletins to relatives in the waiting room, but even that drew criticism. Once in a while, a next of kin complained that the frown on my face as I walked into the lounge scared him or her to death. But wasn’t it mere concentration? It was never enough — my excellent knowledge of anatomy, my openings and closings, my long hours. What people want, I swear, is a doctor with the disposition of a Montessori teacher.

Alice — no Montessori teacher she — has a habit of blurting out uncomfortable truths and preferring a night’s sleep or an evening’s study to any socializing that might be going on. Her roommate, Leo Frawley, the world’s most popular pediatric nurse, takes Alice under his wing. This doesn’t mean he wants to change her, he just reaches out to her as a friend, and after a while, their mutual incomprehension wears off in some extremely charming ways.

Ray, a recent widower, continues his heavy courtship of Alice in every imaginable way: eeling his way into dates, insisting on driving her to her grandmother’s funeral (and bringing four pounds of fudge for the reception), macking his way up to her new apartment, fainting in the bath, and requiring medical attention. Alice is bewildered by this plan of attack, and seesaws between being flattered and annoyed. When she makes friends with another intern, the bold and sarcastic Sylvie, she has another perspective — but also more distractions, since Sylvie’s love life is on High Farce Mode. And in the mean time, Leo’s got a new girlfriend — a baby-hungry midwife who doesn’t seem to like Alice at all. Where is the happily ever after going to come from?

This is the second novel I’ve read by Elinor Lipman, and it’s just delightful: light, light, light as a meringue, light as raspberry mousse. There’s no heartbreak here, nothing high-stakes. When someone is acting like a jerk, everyone has enough common sense to see that person acting like a jerk. People are capable of change. The prose is witty and sly and funny on every page, without being manic. This author is just so enjoyable, and well worth the couple of hours it takes to read one of her novels.

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9 Responses to The Pursuit of Alice Thrift

  1. Yay! I am happy whenever I see anyone getting into Elinor Lipman. I read all her novels about nine or ten years ago and whenever she puts anything else out I eagerly read it. She’s just so smart and charming. I think this might have been the first one I read. I’m overdue for a reread of her older books.

    • Jenny says:

      Have you ever read Laurie Colwin? She is my absolute favorite author of light-but-not-too light, funny-but not-farcical, smart, delightful books about women. She died very young and therefore is no longer writing books (sob!) and I turned to Elinor Lipman when it sank in that I would never have a new Laurie Colwin book to read again.

  2. JaneGS says:

    I like raspberry mousse and I love meringue when coupled with lemon–sounds fun, frothy, and feel good. Sometimes just what is needed.

    • Jenny says:

      That’s exactly what it is. And not dumbed-down, either. I read The Family Man a couple of years ago and liked it even better than this one — though both were very good. Not filling, but delicious!

  3. Yay Elinor Lipman! Oh man, I need to do a reread of some of her books, it’s been way too long. And I’ve been super in the mood for some comfort reading — this summer’s been a rough one in Louisiana, and my brain keeps turning melty when I try to read serious things right now.

    • Jenny says:

      This seems like just the thing. I’ve had a hard, sad summer, too, and this (and Greensleeves!) were exactly right.

  4. Natalie says:

    Thank you for a great review. I, too, am a big fan of Lipman and also Laurie Colwin. I really am enjoying your blog,

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, I’m so glad! I don’t meet too many other Laurie Colwin fans, and they’re always kindred spirits. Welcome here!

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