Heartburn

Collected Works: Literature

 
 

Heartburn

by Nora Ephron
Novel

View the book cover

She looks at the Key lime pie in front of her. Several thoughts cross her mind before she throws it at him: how the linoleum will be wiped clean; how lucky it is that they are not eating by Betty’s beautiful rug. She thinks that, as her husband does not love her, there will be no adverse consequences. The projectile does not hit him squarely, but clings to his facial hair, pieces of crust falling onto his clothes. She wishes she had made a blueberry pie, which would have ruined the blazer that he bought with Thelma.

In a book stuffed with pot roasts and potatoes, complete with a recipe index at the back, food writer Rachel Samstadt likens the painful dissolution of her marriage to acid indigestion. Seven months pregnant with her second child, she finds her husband’s infidelity with ‘a person who was not only a giant but a clever giant’ impossible to stomach. Writing much later about the emotional turmoil, Rachel turns it into a story. A narrative means that she can take control, make people laugh, and ease her lingering symptoms of hurt.

Perhaps partly because it is based in fact, the confessional style immerses the reader within Rachel’s world. Ephron shares the dinner party gossip of the upper middle classes in Washington, D.C., wryly satirising their bourgeois anxieties. Rachel is self-confessedly distracted by the minutiae of home improvements, and caught in constant speculations about extra-marital affairs. But she too recognises the triviality of her life; she mocks her own concern for the flooring during a moment that should have been purely cathartic.

Heartburn may be a cynical examination of marriage, in which adultery is rife, but it retains optimism. Its ingredients, like the lime juice and condensed milk that make up the filling of Rachel’s hurled dessert, leave a bittersweet taste. The novel’s message is one ultimately of resilience, an assertion that we can overcome anything. All we need is a little help from mashed potatoes, bacon hash, or cheesecake. The ache will lessen, the burning sensation will subside, and we will emerge triumphant, the pie having hit the spot.

Words by Emma McKinlay


More to discover

You can hear an excerpt from the audiobook here. Hannah McGill has written about Ephron's film work for Sight & Sound, as has Nell Minow for the website of Roger Ebert. Kristen Aiken has collated twelve Ephron-inspired recipes for The Huffington Post.

Articles about the author available online include: Megan Garber on Ephron as the 'prophet of privacy', for The Atlantic; Tyler Coates on Ephron and heartbreak, for Flavorwire; and Nell Beram on the troubled relationship of Ephron's parents, for Salon.

 


Question of the day

Which works of literature from 1983 would you recommend, and why?
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Shame by Salman Rushdie. A magical realist parable of how shame and self-loathing can give birth to violence and oppression. (→)

– Lewis Coenen-Rowe, Silent Frame Sub-Editor (via Patreon →)

Alice Fulton's eclectic, energetic poetry collection Dance Script with Electric Ballerina(→)

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