Monday, June 10, 2019

Heartburn by Nora Ephron

Heartburn by Nora Ephron
Published December 1983 by Cengage Gale
Source: my copy purchased through Better World Books

Publisher’s Summary: Seven months into her pregnancy, Rachel Samstat discovers that her husband, Mark, is in love with another woman. The fact that the other woman has "a neck as long as an arm and a nose as long as a thumb and you should see her legs" is no consolation. Food sometimes is, though, since Rachel writes cookbooks for a living. And in between trying to win Mark back and loudly wishing him dead, Ephron's irrepressible heroine offers some of her favorite recipes.

My Thoughts: Nora Ephron died seven years ago. I am still in mourning. There will be no more wonderful movies that will become classics. There will be no more books to make me laugh out loud, cry in public, and astound me with Ephron’s wonderful way with words. So periodically I watch one of her beloved movies. And every so often I read one of her books. There are so few of them; and while you can always reread and enjoy them, you can only read them for the first time once. So Heartburn’s been sitting on my bookshelves for a while waiting for me to need some Nora. Recently, I needed me some Nora.

Heartburn is a thinly disguised (and I mean very thinly) novel based on Ephron’s marriage to and divorce from journalist Carl Bernstein (you know, Watergate Carl Bernstein). When asked by her therapist why she has to turn everything into a story, even the sad or terrible things, Rachel says:
 “Because if I tell the story, I control the version.
Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me.
Because if I tell the story, it doesn’t hurt as much.
Because if I tell the story, I can get on with it.” 
Which you can’t help but think is maybe the truest thing Ephron ever wrote. She and Bernstein divorced in 1980 and by 1983 the book was in print. Truth be told, don’t we all tell stories for much the same reasons, especially those stories about things that are painful? Ephron just does it so much better than we can. She can make you feel the pain behind the humor. She can make you find the humor in the pain. And as funny as this book is, it is also really sad. It’s hard to see a marriage fall apart; it’s hard to read about someone betraying a person they once loved so much they begged and begged for the marriage.

Does Rachel have any deep epiphanies about how she found herself in a second bad marriage? No. Does Ephron give us any deep conversations between Rachel and Mark to help us understand their marriage? No. But then we aren't really looking for that in this book; at least I wasn't. I was looking for what I always want from Ephron - humor, humaneness, wonderful conversations. My one little problem with the book is that it is written from Rachel's first person point of view which means that we are to believe that this is a book like the others she has written, books that general contain heaping helpings of stories with recipes. As such, "Rachel" also includes recipes in this book.  But here, they just sort of seem superfluous.

As someone who has always needed to use humor to survive the tough times, I could so relate to Rachel’s need to deflect her pain with her stories and her humor. I saw the movie adaptation of this book years ago. Even though I know what Ephron and Bernstein look like, I still kept picturing Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson as Rachel and Mark which made it slightly easier to imagine this as something other than autobiographical. A story. Because that’s the way Ephron wanted it.


  1. I loved the movie Heartburn with Meryl Street and Jack Nicholson.

  2. Thank you for the review. I dont quite agree about putting it all out there but then there are many ways to skin a cat!

  3. I've seen the move but not read the book. I know I would enjoy the book too.