On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman

9780544808249_p0_v2_s192x300  Elinor Lipman uses her witty banter to deliver a frothy and pleasurable read in her latest novel On Turpentine Lane.  The story revolves around an old house, recently purchased by Faith Frankel, a thirty-something whose boyfriend is walking across the country like Forest Gump.  Lipman’s strength lies in her characters as they meander through ridiculous situations, now and then offering zingers of truth about how people deal with life – through grudges, betrayals, romance – even murder.

An easy read, On Turpentine Lane has all the qualities of a romantic comedy, with a murder mystery mingled into the plot of a small town drama.  After Faith discovers a strange Polaroid in the attic, the local police inform her the former owner – a ninety year old not-dead-yet maven, who may have pushed two husbands down the steep cellar stairs, is living nearby in a nursing home.  As the investigation simmers, Faith’s father, an insurance salesman, has an epiphany and becomes a painter of Chagall imitations, with images of paying customers in replicas of the artist’s surreal work.  In the meantime, Faith decides to stop financing Stuart (Forest Gump) and connect with her handsome colleague, Nick Franconi,  who shares her work space in the development office of a private children’s school.  Nick moves into the Turpentine Lane house, and when Stuart runs out of money and returns, Faith conveniently connects him to Nick’s former girlfriend.

Although the comedic force follows a sitcom formula,  Lipman’s undercurrent grounds the story with perfectly aimed asides, driving the action fast and tight.  All pieces and characters neatly connect and the murder mystery is solved.  Life may be hilarious in a Lipman drama, but it always has an element of truth connecting the reader to something relatable and real.

I’ve enjoyed many of Lipman’s stories.  My favorite may always be her essay “The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted.”

Related Reviews:

Eleanor Lipman: Fiction and Nonfiction

The Family Man

Elinor Lipman – Fiction and Nonfiction

Fiction: The View from Penthouse B

9780547576213_p0_v1_s260x420Elinor Lipman is an acquired taste; her characters are likable, ordinary, sometimes boring, and in The View from Penthouse B her focus on three sisters once again reveals how everyday connections can take the mundane to the universal. Although the focus is the widowed middle sister, Gwen-Laura, who moves into her older sister’s new York penthouse apartment, a cast of characters quickly manage to overwhelm the slow-moving story.

Recognizable contemporary issues drive the action: older sister Margot has lost all her money in Madoff’s Ponzi scheme; her husband, a famous medical doctor is in jail for having sex with his patients; a new gay roommate bakes cupcakes after losing his job at Lehman Brothers; Gwen looks to online dating to find a new life. Sometimes working like a slow Marx Brothers movie, the angles intersect humorously and without much rancor. Although I am a Lipman fan, I found myself falling asleep reading this book – in the middle of the day. If you need fast-paced thrills, this is not for you, but as comfort food for the soul, Lipman’s style is a reminder of the possibility that life can always get better.

Nonfiction: I Can’t Complain

9780547576206_p0_v1_s260x420Lipman’s book of short essays – I Can’t Complain – arrived from the library with her novel. The collection draws from Lipman’s experiences, with the last essay neatly summarizing the plot of her new novel, noting parallels to Lipman’s life after the untimely death of her husband.

I liked this collection of real stories better than the fictionalized version.

One of my favorite books is Berg’s collection of essays that opens with The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted; the same deprecating humor and memorable lines flow through I Can’t Complain. Somehow, Elinor Lipman channeled my mother, my attitudes, sometimes my secret fears – but then Lipman prides herself in connecting to Everyman in her novels of manners – so maybe we all are like that?

On Holding a Grudge:

Upon meeting me you’d find me pleasant, reasonable, and without question, nice…But let me step aside and introduce the inner child…who very much likes to hold a grudge…My personal trepsverter (Yiddish expression meaning ‘perfect retort’) is the tape in my head, always cued up, of the dialogue I might have voiced if life were a soap opera, where good characters scold the bad characters, and the bad characters stand still long enough to hear it.

Real life rarely presents those opportunities. If I find myself in the company of someone who slighted me in, say, 1986, and I excavate the old insult, my conviction, and my voice soon fade: this villain remembers neither the conversation, the context, nor me.”

On Trying to Impress One’s Mother:

“…{at a} book group luncheon. I tried to be winning and entertaining so she could see me in action and be proud. I talked my heart out. She smiled and nodded regally from her chair at the head table… As soon as we got in the car, I asked,”So? What’d you think?” She smiled, patted her own shoulder pads. “I think this suit was a very good choice for this event, don’t you?”

Another review on a Lipman book: The Family Man

Elinor Lipman and The Family Man

Whenever I am scarce on library books,  I browse authors I’ve read before – to see if I’ve missed a publication.  Elinor Lipman is one of my favorites.  The Inn at Lake Devine is one I could read again, and My Latest Grievance, set on a college campus, and reminiscent of the insider’s gossip that could derail a stuffy professor’s career, was one of her best.  

Now I discover she’s written another – The Family Man.  How can a gay, retired lawyer reignite a relationship with the two women in his life that he has avoided for twenty-five years?   His opportunist ex-wife, Denise, whose most recent husband died and left her out of his will, sets him up on dates, and his long-lost daughter, Thalia, seems to have found a gold-mine in him.  Henry is bound to be taken, but Henry is happy to cooperate.

In this lively and humorous comedy of manners, Lipman has her characters juggling loves, careers, and relationships.  Thalia signs a public relations contract to act as a failing movie star’s girlfriend, and moves into Henry’s downstairs empty maisonette. Henry finds his soul mate in a Jewish furniture salesman, and Denise paints her walls black to keep her exclusive apartment from being sold by her dead husband’s sons.  The action takes on a Marx Brothers aura at times.

More sophisticated than a Sophie Kinsella book – with the droll humor of Oscar Wilde – Lipman keeps her characters’ dialogue snappy and the New York setting authentic.  And Lipman slyly slips in her views on the foolishness and bias of people, as she does in all her books.

By the end, it all sounded familiar; could it be I read it when it first came out and forgot?  Wouldn’t be the first time – still an enjoyable read.

The Family Man was published in 2009; isn’t it time for another?