Saturday, October 5, 2013

Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.), by Delia Ephron

"Losing Nora," the first essay in Delia Ephron's new collection, is a gem. Ephron describes her relationship with her beloved--but often difficult--older sister Nora, Nora's illness, and her own grief in the wake of her sister's death. Her forthrightness is stunning and gives the essay a depth that it would not have had had she glossed over the challenges of her relationship with her sister. When, for example,  she feels annoyed at the memorial service because two people quote lines they attribute to Nora ("that was my line"), it's both funny and heartbreaking.

A number of the other essays are more focused on everyday life--her dog, the frustrations of dealing with online ordering and with banks, the correlation between weather and her hair's behavior, and having her domain name hijacked by someone in Japan. Sometimes, an essay that starts out being about one topic takes a turn and ends up somewhere else completely; her paean to New York City's bakeries becomes a reflection on whether we can "have it all" and what "it all" might mean.

The last two essays return to her family. In "Why I Can't Write About My Mother," she looks at the contradictions that were her mother--a talented book-loving writer who had a career when most women didn't, but was also an alcoholic with a gift for withholding what her daughters needed. "Collaboration" returns to her relationship with Nora, describing the joy and challenges of working together to co-author a number of films and their final project, the Broadway play, Love, Loss and What I Wore, which they liked to call The Vagina Monologues without the vaginas.

It is probably obvious that the three essays about family resonated most with me, but the entire Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.)  collection is well worth reading.

Favorite passage

Nora thanked me by sending me roses--two dozen gorgeous plump peach roses in full bloom--the sister in the hospital sending flowers to the one who was not.

I have thought a lot about this. More than anything, I think about this.

There are things a person does that you could talk about forever. They are the key. They reveal character, they unlock secrets. I think Nora's sending me flowers was that.

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