A very personal review of Nora Ephron’s ‘I Feel Bad About My Neck’

“I never do my own hair if I can help it, and I try my best to avoid situations that would require me to. Every so often a rich friend asks me if I’d like to go on a trip involving a boat, and all I can think about is the misery of five days in a small cabin struggling with a blow-dryer. And I am never going back to Africa; the last time I was there, in 1972, there were no hairdressers out in the bush, and as far as I was concerned, that was the end of that place.”

I spent a lot of time reading I Feel Bad About My Neck trying to convince myself I did not dislike Nora Ephron. I feel like I am supposed to look up to her just like I am supposed to look up to everyone more successful than me. I reason my way out of my contempt by saying it is only envy, and that I will be able to respect her more when I finally achieved her caliber of fame.

Then Nora compared herself to a homeless woman and I decided I might actually hate her. She said that without her eight hours of “maintenance” a week she would be as ragged looking as a homeless person–actually admitting that seeing someone else’s misfortune made her fear for her own looks. I couldn’t stand her. I read passages out loud to my roommate so I could share my loathing. I know Nora is being sarcastic and I know part of her humor is pointing out the absurdity of her concerns but I only see it as a waste of time. In my eyes, Nora Ephron is an incredibly gifted writer who is using her powers for evil.

My problem with Ephron is that her reality is so distant from mine that it is impossible for me to relate to her humor. I cannot laugh at the trials and quirks of living and working in Manhattan when my only dream is to someday live and work in Manhattan. Her book is written for the aging New York socialite, so heavy with sarcasm that her jokes only make her seem cruel and ignorant to someone like me. I included the excerpt above because I could not gauge how much was sarcasm and how much was actually her being blind to privilege.

Content aside, I loved her writing style. It is quick and conversational, something you could almost read out loud like a funny monologue in a play. Ephron is dramatic but cool in the way she describes the tiny neurotic things people do and think every day. It makes me feel like everyone is insane and it takes laughing at ourselves to realize it. I liked her heavy use of rhetorical questions too, especially when they formed entire paragraphs. They narrated the anxious and self-doubt-ridden internal dialogue that many people feel and pretend does not exist.

Nora briefly mentions her attention deficit disorder in one essay, just about the only thing in her book I could relate to. It made her writing style make more sense to me. I read her essays almost like a stream of consciousness, and when I stopped being so critical I could see how her mind made jumps that otherwise would seem completely random.

Yet, I will never be able to relate to Nora Ephron, just begrudgingly admire her. She was raised to be a cultured critic, with a comfortable life and a comfortable writer’s salary. Today her career and life could no longer exist, something she admits in an essay about the end of rent stabilization and the luxury decontrol law in NYC. Ephron writes the essay as a tragic love story, but no part of me can empathize with someone who cannot afford their $10,000 a month rent anymore.

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