Then She Found Me (Lipman)

Then She Found Me
Elinor Lipman, 1990
Simon & Schuster
307 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781416589938

April Epner teaches high school Latin, wears flannel jumpers, and is used to having her evenings free. Bernice Graverman brandishes designer labels, favors toad-sized earrings, and hosts her own tacky TV talk show: Bernice G!

But behind the glitz and glam, Bernice has followed the life of the daughter she gave up for adoption thirty-six years ago. Now that she's got her act together, she's aiming to be a mom like she always knew she could. And she's hurtling straight for April's quiet little life. (From the publisher.)

The 2008 film version is directed by and stars Helen Hunt. Colin Firth, Bette Midler, and Matthew Broderick also star.

Author Bio
Birth—October 16, 1950
Where—Lowell, Massachusetts, USA
Education—A.B. Simmons College
Awards—New England Books Award For Fiction
Currently—North Hampton, Massachusetts, and New York
   City, New York

Elinor Lipman began writing fiction in her late 20s, when she enrolled in a creative writing workshop. Since then, she has written a string of bestselling novels, as well as short stories and book reviews. Her books are more than just romantic comedies; Lipman writes entertaining characters who enlighten the plot with their human idiosyncrasies.

Her first release was a collection of short stories, titled Into Love and Out Again (1986). This charismatic collection of stories contains early elements of the thing that would make Lipman a loved novelist: finely drawn characters and page-turning plot twists. The theme of these sixteen stories is the stuff of modern domestic life—marriage, pregnancy, weight gain and true love.

When Lipman released Then She Found Me (1990), Publisher's Weekly called the debut " enchanting tale of love in assorted forms ... a first novel full of charm, humor and unsentimental wisdom." When 36-year-old April Epner suffers the death of both of her adoptive parents, she seeks solace in her quiet, academic life as a Latin teacher in a Boston high school. Bernice Graverman is April's opposite. She's a brash, gossipy talk show host who lives her life with all the tranquility of a stampede. She's also April's birth mother. Lipman's story of their mother and child reunion is unforgettable. The novel was adapted into a 2007 film with Helen Hunt and Bette Midler.

In The Way Men Act (1993), Melinda LeBlanc returns home to Massachusetts to work in the family business. She finds a friend in neighboring shop owner, Libby, and has a one-sided love infatuation with Dennis Vaughan, another small town shop owner. Lipman takes on small town values by portraying the story's interracial relationship with wit and intelligence.

Filled with surprising friendships, Isabel's Bed (1995) tells the story of Harriet Mahoney, a writer at the end of her rope. When Harriet's long-term lover leaves unexpectedly, she moves from Manhattan to Cape Cod for an unusual writing assignment. Harriet has agreed to write the life story of tabloid darling Isabel Krug, a vivacious woman who earned her fifteen minutes of fame for her role as the other woman in a high-profile murder case. Their unusual partnership is the basis for this twisting, hilarious comedy of friendship and trust.

The Inn at Lake Devine (1998) is loosely based on a true story. The serious issue of anti-Semitism is treated with humor—something Lipman is able to do so wonderfully in all her novels. When Natalie Marx's family is denied entry into the Inn at Lake Devine in Vermont, she plans revenge. But her plans are complicated by a friendship with Robin, fiancé to the son of the Inn's owners. Lipman's deft treatment of the play between discrimination and friendship creates a novel whose characters and setting may as well walk straight off the pages; and readers will find themselves laughing at the most serious of issues.

A committed spinster, Adele Dobbin is reunited with the man who left her at the altar thirty years earlier in The Ladies' Man (1999). Nash Harvey arrives, unannounced of course, on Adele's doorstep, and brings chaos into the lives of Adele and her sisters (also single, aging baby-boomers). In a rousing game of sexual politics, Nash unintentionally forces the sisters, particularly Adele, to examine their desires. Five distinct plot lines weave together seamlessly around Nash and his haphazard, womanizing lifestyle.

Sunny's homecoming in The Dearly Departed (2001) is equally life-altering. When her well-loved mother passes away, an entire small town mourns her departure. Back at the scene of her unhappy teenage years, Sunny dreads facing her former classmates, employers and so-called friends. What she finds is unsettling, but in a healthy way: the small town and its citizens are not nearly as malicious or clueless as she mythologized. Likewise, she realizes, neither was her mother. In a touching blend of social commentary, family drama and romantic impulses, Sunny learns that you can go home again.

The Pursuit of Alice Thrift (2003) is classic Lipman. Serious and shy, Alice aspires to be a philanthropic surgeon, using her skills for charity more than personal gain. That is, if she can make it through the rest of her medical internship. Alice is shaken (and confused) when she falls in love with an eccentric, foul-mouthed fudge salesman. But don't expect too much sentimentality here: Lipman gives away the ending in the first chapter, telling readers that the relationship was kaput, but the fun in reading this book is discovering why the two characters even glanced at each other in the first place. It's a great read—Lipman places Alice on an unthinkable, yet totally believable path and we get to watch her find her way through

From a 2004 Barnes & Noble interview:

• I was nearly fired from my second job, which was writing press releases for Boston's public television station. I couldn't do anything right in the eyes of my newly promoted and therefore nervous boss. I quit after three months, one step ahead of the axe, feeling like an utter failure.

• I was runner-up for the Best Actress award at Lowell High School in Lowell, Massachusetts, class of '68, after playing Gabrielle (the Bette Davis role) in The Petrified Forest and Elaine (the ingénue/niece) in Arsenic and Old Lace. And I was grievance chairman for the staff union when I worked for the Massachusetts Teachers Association in the late 1970s. Both of these inclinations come in handy to this day.

• I knit all the time.

• I wear a pedometer, aiming for five miles a day—don't be too impressed; that includes walking around my house and food shopping. Sometimes I walk no farther than my own driveway because I can hear the phone ring—12 round-trips equals one mile.

• I cook quite seriously, which I think is an antidote to the writing—i.e., I finish the project in an hour or two and get feedback immediately.

• I was a roving guard on the Lowell Hebrew Community Center's girls' basketball team all through high school. My specialty was stealing the ball, but my only shot was a lay-up."

When asked what book most influenced her career as a writer, here is her response:

It was New Year's, 1979. I had three days off and a library book, Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters. Every word of the book enthralled me, but the portrait that held me in the tightest grip was a collective one—Sexton's poetry workshop at Boston University, taught by Robert Lowell; martinis after class at the Ritz. "Maybe I should try that," I thought. I signed up for the first course advertised in the first circular that came through my mail slot, "Beginning Fiction," at Brandeis University—ten weeks for $40. Cold feet struck the first night, but I scolded myself into action. After class, I thanked the teacher, Arthur Edelstein, but said I didn't think I'd be back: My classmates were too advanced—seemed to have come that night with novels in progress.  "C'mon," he said. "I'll assign exercises. It'll be fun." I stayed. Author bio From Barnes & Noble.)

Book Reviews
A bright, lively, and funny look at an eccentric mother-daughter relationship.
New York Times Book Review

First-rate...stylish, original....delightful...Then She Found Me is a little, big-hearted book with the capacity to stir surprisingly deep feelings.
Boston Globe

In an enchanting tale of love in assorted forms, Lipman, author of the well-received collection of short stories Into Love and Out Again, delivers a first novel full of charm, humor and unsentimental wisdom. At age 36, April Epner, her adoptive parents recently deceased, is quite satisfied with her quiet, self-sufficient, solitary life as a Latin teacher in a suburban Boston high school. Then she is claimed by her birth mother, Bernice Graverman, star hostess of Boston's popular, gossipy morning TV talk show, Bernice G! Loud and self-centered, always on-stage Bernice, who was 17 when she gave April up for adoption, barrels her way into her self-effacing daughter's life, wreaking havoc all around. Not the least of these occasions occurs after April, bullied into bringing a date to a dinner with Bernice, invites the only available man she knows, the apparently nerdy school librarian, whose shy exterior hides unexpected virtues. Lipman displays a sure, light touch while charting the various transformations that love performs. Raising laughter and tears with acutely observed characterizations and dry, affectionate wit, she also keeps dealing out the surprises, leaving readers smiling long after the last page is turned.
Publishers Weekly

What happens when a well-adjusted adult is found by the birth mother she never sought? In Lipman's deft hands, the relationship between high school teacher April Epner and her newly discovered mother, talk-show hostess Bernice Graverman, is often strained, replete with humorous misunderstandings, but ultimately a warm and positive experience for both. Lipman's depiction of a 1980s family is a skillful rendering of the morals and manners of our time. Each character displays his or her human contradictions, whether it's Bernice frantically inventing preposterous stories concerning April's birth father, or April tentatively moving toward romance with the school librarian. This is a delightful addition to public library fiction collections. —Andrea Caron Kempf, Johnson Cty. Com. Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS
Library Journal

Winningly wry and dry-eyed.... Funny, moving, and very wise in the ways of life.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Then She Found Me:

1. How would you describe Bernice Graverman? Does she have the right to intrude into April's life? Is she April's "mother?" What rights do biological mothers have with regards to their children?

2. Is April's life all that she thinks it is? As she herself puts it: "it's very satisfying to teach something no one cares about."

3. What does Bernice offer April? (Hint: think of the symbolic significance of April's name....)

4. How does the idea of "class" play out in this book; in other words, how are social distinctions presented?

5. Is Elinor Lipman too hard on Bernice in her parody of daytime talk television shows?

6. Ultimately, what does April come to learn about herself and her what it means to be connected to "family?"

7. Lipman writes with a good deal of humor. Point out passages that you find particularly funny. You might even talk about the uses of humor in dealing with what are potentially painful subjects.

8. Have you read any other Elinor Lipman books? If so, how does this compare? If not, are you inspired to read more of her works?

9. Watch selected scenes of the 2008 movie with Helen Hunt and compare them with the book. Does the film capture the essence and humor of the novel?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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