I feel bad about Nora Ephron

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553 Ephron Nora
The lioness in winter, or something:
Why I feel bad about Nora Ephron


Nora Ephron's writing credits are impeccable. She wrote the screenplays for Silkwood and When Harry Met Sally. Her novel Heartburn chronicled the bust-up of her marriage to Carl Bernstein— he was the “stein” half of editor Ben Bradlee’s bellow at the Washington Post for “Woodstein” when Woodward and Bernstein broke the Watergate story.

Ephron’s parents, Henry and Phoebe Ephron, wrote the screenplays for There's No Business Like Show Business, What Price Glory and The Desk Set. Ephron has written since 1962, when she took her journalism degree from Wellesley to New York and got a job as a reporter on the New York Post.

But what has Ephron done for me lately?

Ephron’s last book, I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman, relies on schtick, reads like she wrote it over a weekend and reveals her to be, after all, just another foolish, wealthy 65-year-old Manhattanite who wishes she could turn back the clock and look young again.

Am I disappointed in Nora Ephron for being vain? No. I’m disappointed in Nora Ephron because her writing has become predictable, slick, mediocre and silly.

Let us count the necks

In her “Bad Neck” book, she writes: “Oh, the necks. There are chicken necks. There are turkey gobbler necks. There are elephant necks. There are necks with wattles and necks with creases that are on the verge of becoming wattles. There are scrawny necks and fat necks, loose necks, crepey necks, banded necks, wrinkled necks, stringy necks, saggy necks, flabby necks, mottled necks...

“My own experience with my neck began shortly before I turned 43. I had an operation that left me with a terrible scar just above the collarbone...

“If you learn nothing else from reading this essay, dear reader, learn this: Never have an operation on any part of your body without asking a plastic surgeon to come stand by in the operating room and keep an eye out. Because even if you are being operated on for something serious or potentially serious, even if you honestly believe that your health is more important than vanity, even if you wake up in the hospital room thrilled beyond imagining that it wasn’t cancer, even if you feel elated, grateful to be alive, full of blinding insight about what’s important and what’s not, even if you vow to be eternally joyful about being on the planet Earth and promise never to complain about anything ever again, I promise you that one day soon, sooner than you can imagine, you will look in the mirror and think, I hate this scar.”

Does this writing strike you as witty or acerbic? Or just plain dreary? Would you pay $21.95 to read more?

A rewarding lifetime of this and that

“Bad Neck” is something of a memoir. We are led through the years by way of her enthusiasms—cooking, marriage/divorce, hair, nails and superficial friends who have a flair for this and that.

Post-World War II: “Meanwhile, we all began to cook in a wildly neurotic and competitive way...Okay, I didn’t have a date, but at least I wasn’t one of those lonely women who sat home with a pathetic container of yogurt.”

Divorce: Ephron met Lee Bailey, who had a fine-dining accoutrements store at Henri Bendel. He showed her cooking could be simple. “I immediately got a divorce...and began to make a study of Lee Bailey.”

Hair: “I’m in awe of the women I know who have magical haircuts that require no maintenance...twice a week I go to a beauty salon and have my hair blown dry. It’s cheaper by far than psychoanalysis.”

Nails: “When and how did it happen that you absolutely had to have a manicure? If your nails weren’t manicured (as opposed to merely clean) you felt ungroomed. You felt ashamed. You felt like sitting on your hands.”

We'll always have....guess who

OK, everyone’s entitled to coast once in a while. But few of us make a living at it. Ephron’s essays also appear lately on The Huffington Post. They too are carelessly written and slipshod. Witness this peroration to her June 26th post about the recent misfortunes of Paris Hilton, titled (surprise!) “I Love Paris”:

“And say this for Paris— she's not one of those wussy blonde victims like Marilyn Monroe or Princess Diana or Anna Nicole Smith. For one thing, she's alive. For another, she's out there, doing all the things that none of us would do in our worst moments. And she's always in character. If you were ever to have your license suspended for driving while intoxicated, would you go out and drive again (under the influence) and again (under the influence)? Would you blame your press agent for failing to tell you that you weren't supposed to and think that the judge would find this argument compelling? Of course you wouldn't. But Paris would, and Paris did, and she looked great, and let's give her the points she deserves for setting the parameters.”

Ephron closes with the observation that Hilton isn't going away. Can you guess her final line? Yes, you guessed it: “We’ll always have Paris.”

If you or I submitted such an exercise in recycled wit to a book publisher or Arianna Huffington, how do you suppose they’d respond?

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