Slouching Toward Neck Trouble: How Nora Ephron defined the comic spirit of new journalism

Heather Havrilesky in Bookforum:

Nora-ephronWhen everything fell to pieces for Didion—her husband of thirty-nine years died of a heart attack in 2003, and her daughter died of acute pancreatitis in 2005—her signature foreboding tone needed few adjustments. In The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights, Didion describes these losses in the same melodramatic yet detached style that she once used to describe Los Angeles’ pristine blue skies as “the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse,” or to capture the uneasy course of a family holiday in Hawaii, taken “in lieu of filing for divorce.” Didion’s unmatched dexterity as a writer hasn’t changed, but something feels wrong for the first time. Closing her last two books, it’s hard not to implore of the book-jacket photo, “But, Joan, how do you actually feel about all of this?”

Ephron, on the other hand, tells us exactly how she feels every step of the way—whether she’s clashing with her former boss, New York Post owner Dorothy Schiff, or reflecting on cheesecake and pot roast and the futility of making egg rolls that aren’t even as good as cheap Chinese takeout. Ephron does all this in the plainest language, with the least fanfare and the greatest amount of humor she can manage. Here is how she describes, to a reporter from the New Yorker, her mother’s death by cirrhosis, which was aided by an overdose of sleeping pills administered by her father: “When that happened, I don’t know how to say this except . . . it was a moment of almost comic relief. It seemed entirely possible, in character, understandable, and I think we all filed it under Will I Ever Be Able to Use This in Anything.” Likewise, when Ephron discovered that her husband, Carl Bernstein, was cheating on her while she was pregnant with her second child, she translated that nightmare into the surprisingly giddy best-selling novel Heartburn, which subsequently became a film starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson.

More here.