Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Book Review: About Alice, by Calvin Trillin

This is the latest in the string of memoirs that men have written about their late/critically ill wives. I assure you, kittens, that it was purely coincidence that I read three of these books in a row. But this volume was in the bargain bin at Borders, and I had heard a lot of good things about it, so I picked it up.

About Alice is a loving, affectionate memoir about Alice Trillin, who was the muse, editor, and chief critic/confidante to New Yorker magazine writer Calvin Trillin. Alice, he writes, was the one who ensured that her family ate three square meals a day. She was the one who insisted that a parent attend every single performance of their child's play, no matter how poor it was. She was Calvin's biggest critic, reading over every draft of a piece that he wrote for the New Yorker. He knew the minute that Alice frowned that he would have to rewrite, most likely several drafts worth, of his story.

Mostly, About Alice is a story of courage. Alice Trillin was diagnosed with lung cancer when her daughters, Abigail and Sarah, were very young, seven and four, respectively. She wanted to beat the disease in any way she could, in order to see her daughters grow up. She ultimately survived, and watched her daughters marry. Calvin Trillin writes admiringly about Alice's determination, especially during her final years.

I was not familiar with Calvin Trillin's work before I read this book, and I am not sure if I would pursue his works any further. While About Alice was a very touching story, it was very dry at times. This had nothing to do with the subject matter. Sometimes Trillin can get on a tangent and ramble on about topics that have nothing to do with the main plot. This is where I found the book to be tedious. However, you can't deny the affection, admiration, or love that he had for his wife. That is really what makes the book worth reading.


Grand Pooba said...

When books become dry like that or go off on tangents, I usually just skip ahead. I'm so impatient!

septembermom said...

Interesting review. I don't know if I would like those tangents either.

Celia said...

I always wanted to try that book. Try In The Land of Invisible Women, it's incredible.

blueviolet said...

Normally I really do love memoirs. I'm not sure if this is a yes or a no for me.

Jenners said...

This was my second Trillin book, and I don't think you should write him off. I plan to read some more. The first one I read was "Family Man," and it was quite enjoyable.