About Alice by Calvin Trillin
I was going to choose the only other book I’ve read by Trillin for the letter T in my go at Simon’s Twitter tag #AToZofBooks which I’ve enjoyed doing over the past couple of days, but I got distracted by another author. Tepper Isn’t Going Out (reviewed here), which I read back in late 2008, is a comic masterpiece all about a mild-mannered NYC businessman who likes to legally park and read his paper in peace and quiet. It’s a triumph of bureaucracy for the little man – and I really recommend it.
Trillin has been a staff writer for the New Yorker since 1963 and he wrote for Nation magazine too. He’s written lots of other books, some collecting columns talking about his family, travel and food – three of his favourite themes. He married Alice in 1965 and she featured in many of his columns and books. She died from cancer in 2001, and Trillin later wrote an essay, later extended into this little book, about her in 2006. They met in 1963 at a publishing party, but he didn’t get to talk to her then – however, he got another opportunity:
At the second party, I did get to talk to her quite a lot. In fact, I must have hardly shut up. I was like a lounge comic who had been informed that a booker for The Tonight Show was in the audience. Recalling that party in later years, Alice would sometimes say, “You have never again been as funny as you were that night.”
“You mean I peaked in December of 1963?” I’d say, twenty or even thirty years later.
“I’m afraid so.”
But I never stopped trying to match that evening– not just trying to entertain her but trying to impress her.
This essay is unashamedly sentimental, Calvin and Alice obviously loved each other deeply. It’s impossible to read without tearing up, but not with sadness necessarily, more often with joy as he celebrates his luck at finding his soulmate. He’s also incapable of not writing wittily, being self-deprecating and not afraid of gentle criticism where a joke can be told with love. Reading a memoir about life with a woman you’ve never encountered in print before, may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but she was an interesting woman with a very evident strong personality. I’ll leave you with a quote which takes us back to Tepper…
When Alice died, I was going over the galleys of a novel about parking in New York – a subject so silly that I think I would have hesitated to submit the book to a publisher if she hadn’t somewhat to her surprise, liked it. When the novel was published, the dedication said, “I wrote this for Alice. Actually, I wrote everything for Alice.
Source: Own copy. Calvin Trillin, About Alice, Random House US, 2006, hardback, 96 pages.
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