Like restaurant menus that change with the seasons, exchanging vegetable soup for vichyssoise, so too do readers tend to swap the weighty, more serious literature of fall and winter for the breezy reads of swimming pools and faraway beaches. Good summertime writers know to keep it simple: compelling premise, fast plot, enough wit to keep you laughing. Even better are those who offer interesting commentary on complex social issuesclass, say, or contemporary feminismas well as characters you don't just meet but come to understand as well.
Elinor Lipman's latest, The Pursuit of Alice Thrift (Vintage Books, 288 pp., $12.95), is a definite front-runner in the race to the beach bag. In her eighth novel, Lipman delves into the world and psyche of Alice Thrift, a graduate of MIT and the Harvard University School of Medicine, who is highly competent at surgery and completely inept at human interaction. Her colleagues disdain her, and her parents stay mystified by her blunt and often vexing behavior. "You asked me to leave the way you'd hang up on a telemarketer," her mother complains after one particularly trying visit.
"You don't have to worry," Alice replies. "I practice diplomacy all the time with patients. A doctor can't just walk into the hospital room and say, 'Looks bad. Couldn't be worse. Do you have your affairs in order?' The one time I did that, the family asked that I be taken off the case."
Alice is isolated and lonely, and this is a beach read, so it's not surprising when into Alice's life walks Ray Russo, a First-Prize Fudge salesman she meets in the hospital and dissuades from a possible rhinoplasty. When asked to describe her new suitor in 25 words or less, Alice says, "Traveling salesman, bad grammar, rough-hewn, had an unlisted number, a swagger, was transparently impressed with my being a doctor while not even using anatomically correct names for body parts." Alice's friends and family cannot understand why she would choose someone who is, in their eyes, little more than a gold-digging con man. Alice's romantic traumas, added to her trials and foibles as a surgical intern at a large Boston hospital, move the plot along at more than a brisk pace.
Perhaps what is most endearing about the novel is the extended cast of characters surrounding Alice, and Lipman makes each one count. There are no stock personalities or stereotypes here; each one is quirky and original. Some of the best scenes in the book involve Alice's pierced and spiky-haired friend Sylvie, her popular and charismatic roommate Leo and her bullying and philandering nemesis of an attendant, Dr. Hastings. Clever, charming and quick on its feet, The Pursuit of Alice Thrift is a tempting summer read.
The author reads at Davis-Kidd Booksellers on May 5 at 6 p.m.
So long Don. Your creative energy and encouragement were inspirational to me.
It was so great being one of those kids in Dayton.
I miss Iodine.
^ It's nice to see an official acknowledgement by management. Kristen Mcarther Miles (the girl…
How ironic that "Vandy radio" gets resurrected as a fictional station?! I was just glad…
Wonderful tribute to a wonderful man.