I Can't Complain by Elinor Lipman Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ISBN 978-054757620X Hardcover, $20, 161 pages
I've read a few of Elinor Lipman's novels, but had not read any of her essays. Some have previously appeared in magazines (Good Housekeeping) and newspapers (she had a regular column in the Boston Globe), but all were new to me. Lipman shares stories from her childhood, where her father always listened to her and her sister, an appreciative audience for their anecdotes. He was an avid reader who introduced his daughter to humorists like Max Schulman. Her mother was "dainty and fussy" and could not abide any condiments, could not even be around them. Lipman grew up without ketchup, mayonnaise, Worchestershire sauce. She writes lovingly about her husband Bob, with whom she shares no common hobbies or interests and likes it that way. She sees no need to play golf or Jet Ski with him. I love that she said if she were a matchmaker, her important questions would include Do you want children? How far ahead of your flight do get to the airport? Are you willing to leave dirty dishes in the sink overnight? She thinks these are more important predictors of compatibility than shared hobbies and I so agree. I loved her essay, "My Soap Opera Journal", tracing her life's moments through her soap opera viewing habits because I could relate to it. I go to a lot of author events, and her essay on things that have gone wrong at author events had me chuckling. I also enjoyed "Ego Boundaries" about her and Bob's clashing fashion styles; he is "a sharp dresser with an impeccable eye" and she is, well, not so much. One of the last essays is a heartfelt one about Bob and the devastating illness he faced. It is a testament to Lipman's brilliant writing that in this slim volume of essays I got to know Bob so well, it felt like I was losing a dear friend too. How she and her son Ben dealt with this illness is honest and heartfelt. The back of the book compares Lipman's essays to Nora Ephron and Anna Quindlen, both of whom I love, so it is no wonder that I enjoyed "I Can't Complain" so much. It's a great gift to give a girlfriend of a certain age. rating 4 of 5 By the way, Lipman has a lovely, unique looking website here.