The Pursuit of Alice Thrift
Poor Alice Thrift is not very good at anything. She is a resident at a big hospital, low on sleep, low on social skills, and not even very good at many of the required medical skills. Into her well-ordered, if not particularly pleasing life, comes Ray Russo. This smooth-talking fudge salesman doesn't so much woo her as wear her down. And even as inept as Alice is in her own world, to Ray her status as a doctor represents a success for him. But the hook is that Alice isn't all that inept. She just doesn't have the life experience and emotional intelligence to move easily in a world that thrives on drama.
As Russo pursues Alice, her clinical observations of him and his effect on her is hilarious. And while he is a smarmy character, there is some part of his oiliness that starts to loosen Alice up. At the same time Russo is giving Alice the rush, her roommate Leo is trying to protect her. But instead of bubble-wrapping her, Leo tries to get her to see her own potential. The push and pull on Alice's psyche begins to round out her personality. Add the effect of a new female friend and Alice is ready to be a fully-functioning person. But oops, she married Ray somewhere along the way and is now stuck with him...or is she?
One of the appealing things about this book is the utter ruthlessness of Alice's observations, usually made at a point when conversation level has dropped in the room, so everyone can hear them. Alice, without social filters, simply says what is on her mind, and the effect is often laugh-out-loud funny. She doesn't mean to be cruel, or witty, or awkward. In fact, she probably says out loud what the rest of us would love to get away with saying. As she moves along through the story, being massaged into a more complete being, she learns to temper her acerbity with compassion and humor. Because she recognizes her ineptitude, and spends time analyzing it in such a dispassionate (and funny) manner, the reader starts cheering for Alice early on. At the apex of the story, it would not be beyond imagination to cheer out loud -- this reader did.
For all of us who have said the wrong thing at the wrong time, or failed to discern the reptilian tendencies of a suitor, or just who like to laugh, The Pursuit of Alice Thrift by Elinor Lipman is worth reading. Maybe twice.
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