Sunday, 7 April 2019

Hungry for more

Rachel Samstat is seven months pregnant with her second child when she learns that her husband Mark has been having an affair. This is not the first time he has cheated during their eight year relationship, but this is one that burns because Mark announces he is in love with the other woman. Rachel flees Washington for New York to decide whether or not to give up on their marriage. She attends therapy, meets friends and muses about how mashed potatoes are the ideal comfort food.

Ephron's novel Heartburn (1983) is autobiographical and would have been quite scandalous when released as it based on her second marriage to journalist Carl Bernstein, of Watergate fame. Indeed in her introduction to the book she shares how angry Bernstein was at her for writing it. As she writes, 'what did he think was going to happen?' - she is a writer after all.

The main character is a cookbook writer, so throughout Heartburn Rachel shares recipes for cheesecakes and vinaigrette, as well as casual asides about food ('the truth is that any dish with capers in it tastes better with capers not in it'). She also has some great lines about relationships like 'I think I was so entranced with being a couple that I didn't even notice that the person I thought I was a couple with thought he was a couple with someone else.'

I really wanted to like this book as I am a fan of Ephron's screenwriting and have always thought of her as a smart and sassy woman. But I am afraid this book didn't work for me. It was kind of like hearing an overlong stand-up comedy set which isn't terribly funny. The recipes were unnecessary and distracting, and many of the scenes were over the top and unbelievable.  I guess what I was searching for was a bit more depth, given the seriousness of the subject, and this was a light as a soufflĂ©.

This is the second book in a row that I have read on marriage and relationships, having finished Meg Woitzer's The Wife earlier this week. Both were about marriage, unfaithfulness, division of domestic labour and settling. If anything, these two novels made me thankful for my own relationship and grateful that I live in a different time.

Heartburn was made into a film in 1986 starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson, directed by Mike Nichols. Nora Ephron penned the screenplay.