About Norah Ephron’s final act…

Word count: 353 words

Reading time: Just over 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help writers. Today, I focus on a remembrance of Nora Ephron.

When my mother died in 2005, I wrote about her. But here’s the difference between Jacob Bernstein and me. I didn’t write for the New York Times. And my mother wasn’t Nora Ephron.

Bernstein’s March 6/13 remembrance, titled “Nora Ephron’s Final Act,” is a sad and exquisitely written act of fealty by a son with famous parents. (His dad is Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame.)

I discovered Ephron in 1983, when I was in my mid-twenties and read her very funny book, Heartburn. In it, she describes her reaction to having a toddler (that was Jacob) and being pregnant with her second son (Max) when she discovers her husband, Bernstein, is having an affair with a mutual friend. Ephron, who divorced the louse, proved that revenge is not just a dish best served cold — it’s a full meal deal complete with appetizers and dessert.  After reading her book, I had no desire to see the movie (with Meryl Streep.) The book was enough. To me, she was famous well before her 1989 movie When Harry Met Sally.

In fact, I always preferred Nora’s essays to her movies. She was damn funny. I remember calling a friend to tell him about an anecdote from I Remember Nothing in which she describes a stranger approaching her at an airport — and reeling in shock when she realized the stranger was her sister. Trust me, if you’re older than 50 this joke has resonance.

I like the way Jacob tells the story of his mother, and of her death at age 71, in episodic fashion. He works in a few good jokes of his mother’s (her request for a de Kooning from the Guggenheim was my favourite) but most importantly, he gives her legions of fans a sense of closure. People expected Nora, who had been so open about so much, to prepare them for her death. That she hadn’t turned it into a well-made play disappointed them…us.

But judging by the evidence of this New York Times essay, at least she gave us another fine writer.