It’s Eli­nor Lip­man’s year

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS/ - ANDREW MARKS

Bos­ton Globe colum­nist Eli­nor Lip­man has per­haps not re­ceived the at­ten­tion she de­serves as a nov­el­ist. But now that is all set to change and 2007 looks like be­ing her year. Head­line Re­view is pour­ing out her ti­tles old and new and her early of­fer­ing, “Then She Found Me”, is be­ing made into a film star­ring Bette Mi­dler, He­len Hunt, Colin Firth and Matthew Brod­er­ick. Even this will have a spe­cial lit­er­ary con­nec­tion in that Salman Rushdie, no less, will have a cameo role as a gy­nae­col­o­gist.

First on the Head­line Re­view con­veyor belt is “My Latest Griev­ance”, which is about to ap­pear in pa­per­back as well as hard­back.

This con­cerns Fred­er­ica Hatch, who is named af­ter her el­derly Jewish un­cle, a par­tic­i­pant in the dan­ger­ous Free­dom Ride protests against racial seg­re­ga­tion when he was in his 80s. Does that mean that if she had been a boy she would have been named Fred­er­ick, she asks her par­ents. No, she would have been named Julius af­ter Julius Rosenberg, the Com­mu­nist mar­tyr of the Macarthy era.

Aged 16, Fred­er­ica is in­ter­ested in might-have-beens. It is 1978, and her par­ents, who have sac­ri­ficed their ca­reers in cham­pi­oning good causes, teach and act as dorm par­ents at a New Eng­land women’s col­lege which is lit­tle more than a fin­ish­ing school. Fred­er­ica is com­ing out of a charmed child­hood as the hon­orary lit­tle sis­ter to gen­er­a­tions of dim but good-na­tured girls, thor­oughly spoiled, with no sense of pri­vacy of her own, or re­spect for any­one else’s, ness make her an at­trac­tive al­ter­na­tive to Fred­er­ica’s se­ri­ous-minded, dowdy mother. While Laura Lee is happy to par­tic­i­pate in any­one’s fan­tasy life, her own self-cen­tred agenda cre­ates a web of sex­ual in­trigue which robs Fred­er­ica of all re­spect for adults and threat­ens the se­cu­rity of the only ex­is­tence she knows.

Fred­er­ica is a mon­strously wise child, and a wickedly en­ter­tain­ing nar­ra­tor. Bitchy, ma­nip­u­la­tive, and far too know­ing , she is a won­der­ful ve­hi­cle for Lip­man’s sharp eye for char­ac­ter and fine ear for di­a­logue which pro­pels the story along. Lip­man’s gen­tle so­cial satire and Fred­er­ica’s of­ten hyp­o­crit­i­cal in­dig­na­tion lure the reader into a com­plicit in­ti­macy which rev­els in the bur­geon­ing scan­dal. The at­mos­phere of the dorm, its con­fi­dences, gos­sip and shift­ing al­liances , the only world Fred­er­ica knows, colours ev­ery­thing.

Yet this is a novel of truth as well as con­se­quences. Lip­man does not spare us the pain that ro­man­tic in­trigue causes, and Fred­er­ica dis­cov­ers that the other-worldly po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness she finds so ridicu­lous in her par­ents is built on solid val­ues — val­ues which she shares when they are put to the test in a se­ries of nat­u­ral and moral dis­as­ters which ex­pose Laura Lee’s ter­ri­fy­ing self­ish­ness.

This is a beau­ti­fully con­structed novel, with not a word of the spare prose su­per­flu­ous, not a thread left un­tied. The plot breathes nat­u­rally even as Lip­man leads us along Fred­er­ica’s jour­ney through pre­co­cious cu­rios­ity, dis­il­lu­sion, and for­give­ness. And it teaches that, if the Laura Lees of this world are be­yond re­demp­tion, they are ca­pa­ble of kind­ness af­ter their own fash­ion.

Eli­nor Lip­man: a big year ahead for the un­der-rated nov­el­ist and an en­vi­ous cu­rios­ity as to what an or­di­nary life might be.

Then a might-have-been takes flesh in the shape of Laura Lee, her fa­ther’s first wife and hith­erto fam­ily se­cret. Laura Lee has been able to re­main in per­pet­ual ado­les­cence, in pur­suit of a semi-fic­tional ca­reer as a dancer, on her al­imony pay­ments from Fred­er­ica’s fa­ther. The Hatch fam­ily’s thread­bare ex­is­tence is not solely due to noble self-sac­ri­fice af­ter all.

When Laura Lee ar­rives on cam­pus as dorm mother at an­other dor­mi­tory, Fred­er­ica is drawn to her as both pro­tec­tor and sur­ro­gate daugh­ter. Laura Lee’s gaudy dress sense and play­ful-

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