Pursuit of Alice Thrift (Review)

Labels: A Lighter Touch

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The Pursuit of Alice Thrift
Elinor Lipman, 2003
304 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
May 2010

Lipman had me at the first sentence. Her writing is so polished, dialogue so hilarious, sentences crisp and pointed that I was hooked from the beginning.

Even author Richard Russo says (a bit enviously, I think) that Elinor Lipman makes "everything look easy, even to other writers who know better." That's high praise. Here are the novel's opening lines—breezy yet trenchant on so many levels . . .

You may have seen us in "Vows," in The New York Times: me, alone, smoking a cigarette and contemplating my crossed ankles.... We didn't have pretty faces, ...but we met and married in the manner that was right for the SundayStyles.

Alice's problem isn't her lack of a "pretty face." Her problem is that she's horribly, intractably socially inept—even a bit asperger-y.

Ray Russo comes to our heroine looking for a nose job, which (truly) he could use. But Alice dissuades him. She's in her first year of an internship in plastic surgery, a field she pursues, not to cater to the rich and vain, but to repair flesh torn and burnt by accident, and deformities handed out at birth. Her goals, in other words, are noble.

Yet nothing seems to be working for poor Alice: she possesses a lousy bedside manner, causes a near-botched operation, has few friends, is hounded by an overbearing mother and pursued by Ray Russo. He of the large proboscis enters her life—for better or worse, it's hard to tell. Despite warnings from friends and family, one can't help feel a smidgen of affection for Ray. But just as your sympathy takes hold, a sense of revulsion rushes in.

We already know the outcome. The first sentence is a give away—the two march down the aisle. Except that's not End of Story...but no way will I spoil it for you. It's far too much fun.

This book is a charmer...and book clubs will have fun parsing out all the characters, particularly Alice and Ray.

See our Reading Guide for The Pursuit of Alice Thrift.

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