26 March 2021

Heartburn by Nora Ephron

Holy moly was this ever good. It's been sitting on my list to read since Meg told me about an interview she listened to years ago where Ephron talked about this book and time in her life, and I just recently watched the movie adaptation (again based on Meg's recommendation). I have always enjoyed Ephron's writing, both her nonfiction and her screenplays, but I wasn't expecting to love this so much.

The book is technically considered fiction but it's very openly about Ephron's real divorce from journalist Carl Bernstein. The story follows Rachel, a food writer, whose husband cheats on her when she's seven months pregnant (they already have a toddler together as well). Rachel goes through the entire process of finding out, freaking out, grieving, going back to him, freaking out more, etc. Although I haven't experienced this myself, Ephron is so good at putting authentic female feelings to paper the whole thing feels like a saga you're watching your friend experience. 

Carl Bernstein and Nora Ephron

Ephron had been married and divorce twice when she wrote this and there are so many amazing passages about marriage, both depressing and hopeful. After Rachel's first marriage she swore off marriage again until she met Mark and they both felt like since they had done the marriage thing before they'd be better at it this time, it would be different. Something that always surprises me is that even the women I consider to be the most smart, most critical, and most experienced still make the same blinded mistakes regarding their love lives. It truly makes me feel better, like, I'm not dumb, it's a rite of passage. 

For example, when Rachel flies to New York to stay with her dad the night she learns about the affair, she never has any intentions of actually leaving Mark. She just wants him to come after her begging for her to come back, classic woman move. 

Mark would turn up eventually, of course- but what if he didn't? What would I do? Where would I live? How much money would I need? Who would sleep with me?"

There are some really pathetic bits like when she's out for the day in NYC but keeps calling home to ask her dad's housekeeper if Mark has called. I have a story like this for each of my friends, and at least ten for myself.

I flung open the door to tell [Mark] I never wanted to see him again but I might consider coming back under certain circumstances."

I've read many, many books about affairs, divorce, etc. but I don't feel like I've ever been so authentically in a woman's head as she experiences it as I have with this book. Ephron pays such close attention to the tiniest details that seem miniscule but make the emotions feel so much more authentic. 

The book is not all depressing however, there is some great comedy to it as well. At one point Rachel's group therapy gets robbed and all the women tell the cops they found the robber (who had a nylon over his head) attractive. This is SO funny to me and again speaks to those tiny details Ephron makes sure to add that colour the story so perfectly. There is no doubt in my mind that Meg and I would have also both found the robber hot.

"It must be my fault" were in fact [Mark's aunt's] first words on the subject when I called to tell her I had gone to New York because her nephew had fallen in love with Thelma Rice. "Don't be silly," I said in reply, but what I was thinking was: You bet your sweet ass it is. Jewish princes are made, not born."

There are also ~10 full recipes scattered throughout the story as Rachel mentions food she cooks for certain times (mashed potatoes when you're sad, etc.). I plan to spend some time transferring them all to my own recipe book just for the novelty of it, but her rhyming off these recipes randomly again just added to the authenticity of her headspace.

a still from the 1986 film adaptation

The movie adaptation is fantastic and available on Prime. Jack Nicholson plays Mark and Meryl Streep plays Rachel and it's hard to imagine anyone else doing as good of a job in the roles. I think the book allows for more of Rachel's inner commentary, which is the best part in my opinion. It's just hard to translate that kind of writing into a screenplay without it being narrated or something else weird. Ephron adapted the book herself which I think contributes to the success of it.

This is such a good read, easily a new favourite for me. It's pretty short (only about 180 pages) and I can't imagine a female reading this and not enjoying it. If you've read other stuff by Ephron, this is a bit different. It's more of a narrative than her usual chopped up, thought-explosion-on-paper, but I think most people would prefer this style to that. I also want to share this link to an incredible essay she wrote on divorce, etc. that conveniently serves as a 'trailer' for this book. 

I am no beauty, and I'm getting on in years, and I have just about enough money to last me sixty days, and I am terrified of being alone, and I can't bear the idea of divorce, but I would rather die than sit here and pretend it's okay, I would rather die than sit here figuring out how to get you to love me again, I would rather die than spend five more minutes going through your drawers and wondering where you are and anticipating the next betrayal and worrying about whether my poor, beat-up, middle-aged body with its Caesarean scars will ever turn you on again."

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