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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-06-24
- Reviewer: Staff
“Life is such a jumble,” writes Ephron in one of many blunt essays from her fourth collection, a phrase that aptly describes these reflections on the monumental and the mundane. The lighter fare—including a spirited poem about bad hair days and a charming appreciation of her dog, a small white Havanese named Honey—plays second fiddle to the real drama: her relationship with sister Nora and their partnership on projects such as the film You’ve Got Mail and the off-Broadway hit Love, Loss, and What I Wore. Many readers will be curious about Delia’s take on her more famous sister, who was “ruthless as a writer” and the model for a “wildly opinionated, wildly successful, self-centered older sister” in her novel Hanging Up. The most insightful pieces, however, focus on Delia’s personal transformation: after her “walkabout” 20s, she became a novelist and screenwriter in a happy second marriage. The wisdom in these essays is gentler, and the jokes are warmer, balancing the brittle humor Delia succumbs to when describing Nora’s power plays and their mother’s dictums on how to be an Ephron (i.e., a writer who worships success). Although many details will be familiar to Delia’s fans, the mix here mirrors the comforting jumble of real life, with jewels, junk, and everything else thrown in, creating a down-to-earth intimacy that is classic Ephron. (Sept.)
Life, love and Nora
Sister Mother Husband Dog is a breezy and irresistible collection of essays from Delia Ephron. According to a family joke, Delia “shared half a brain” with her late, famous sister Nora, and there are undeniable likenesses in their work. Like Nora’s essay collections, the topics addressed in Delia’s book are wonderfully wide ranging and amusing. One essay memorably begins, “I don’t care about the weather. I care only what the weather is going to do to my hair.”
If you are of an Ephron sensibility—you’ve watched When Harry Met Sally . . . and Julie & Julia, or you’ve picked up I Feel Bad About My Neck or Hanging Up—this book will give you more of what you love best. More great one-liners: “When the conversation turns to dogs, you know the party is five minutes from being over.” More delightfully random tangents, about famous New York danishes, for example. More outrageous stories about the family. However, unlike Nora’s essays, some of Delia’s flatly refuse a tidy resolution.
For instance, consider Delia’s comment when writing about her mother in “Why I Can’t Write About My Mother”: “What I’m writing—my intention to get a grip on her—keeps spinning out of control. . . . I keep trying to make this essay ‘neat,’ bend it to my will, make it track, but I can’t.” These more complex topics, which also include Nora’s death, balance the lighter pieces about dog shows and technological difficulties. Sometimes after finishing one of the more complicated essays, I found myself marveling at Ephron’s ability to circuitously connect a series of unlikely dots, thus forming a memorable and original constellation—something that only the very best essays do well.
The voice of Delia’s father echoes through the collection, though he is not mentioned in the title by name. She tells us of their family dinners. “That’s a great line!” he’d yell to his daughters. “Write it down!” And readers like me are so very happy that the Ephron women obeyed the command, took a sidelong look around and grabbed a pen.