I remember the first time I read Heartburn. It had just been published and the media was in a tizzy over the fact that Nora Ephron had written such a brutally honest account of her failed marriage to Carl Bernstein, albeit in a thinly fictionalized form. I also remember being less interested in whether Bernstein was or wasn’t the sort of guy who’d “have sex with a Venetian blind,” as Ephron wrote, and more interested in how she came up with such a funny line. It was her humor, her unique voice that drew me in.
Years later, Heartburn figures into a writing ritual of mine: I feel the need to go back to it before I start a new novel of my own. I re-read it hoping Ephron’s comic timing will be contagious and that I’ll catch it. I re-read it hoping I’ll be able to seize on just the right words and phrases and turn them into a laugh. I re-read it hoping I’ll take on her blend of hard-bitten cynicism and romantic sappiness. I don’t re-read Heartburn for her storytelling, in other words, which is negligible, as nothing much happens in the book and she’s clearly not interested in plot. I re-read it for her voice.
I’ve started the second book in my “Three Blonde Mice” series, the first of which, Three Blonde Mice, will be published in August or September 2016 (still waiting to hear from the publisher) and is a spinoff of Princess Charming. In this one, Elaine, Jackie and Pat, the three best friends who take vacations together every year only to become embroiled in romance and some sort of murder-and-mayhem, go to Rhinebeck, in New York state’s Hudson Valley region. But this vacation is very different from the others, as it’s Elaine’s destination wedding to Simon Purdys, the hottie she met on the cruise in Princess Charming and who figures prominently in Three Blonde Mice. Elaine had visions of a European villa for her destination wedding, but since Rhinebeck holds sentimental value for Simon and his family, she agrees to have the wedding at the village’s most enduring inn, the Beekman Arms.
I went to Rhinebeck and the “Beek,” as the inn is affectionately called by locals, to research my book and will post pictures of my trip there and to neighboring Hyde Park, where I visited the FDR library and museum, the Vanderbilt mansion and other historic sites. But in the meantime, I’m finding my way into the novel, into the plot and characters, into the head of Elaine, the narrator.
Which is why I’m re-reading Heartburn. Elaine is a neurotic New Yorker who’s every bit as romantic as she is embittered. She’s so much fun to write because she’s such a woman of contradictions. And she’s funny – at least I try to imbue her with funniness. She doesn’t tell jokes. She doesn’t attempt to crack people up. She’s funny by virtue of the situations in which she places herself, often tripped up by her own neuroses. By re-reading Ephron, I hope I can learn once again how to make Elaine sympathetic and relatable, sarcastic and self-deprecating, hapless and clever and, above all, a woman who makes us laugh.