Some 31 years ago Nora Ephron began her book of essays on women’s issues by lamenting her too-small breasts and describing them as the “hang-up of [her] life.” In 2006, her concern has shifted up 10 inches to her neck. “Uh oh,” I thought, upon reading this first essay. And it seems I have nothing to look forward to in the years to come. Fortunately, my concerns were unwarranted. In her new collection of essays, I Feel Bad About My Neck (Alfred A. Knopf, S20.00), Ephron offers a smart, delightful and, at times, poignant reflection on aging and womanhood. Ephron, a novelist, essayist (Wallflower at the Orgy, Crazy Salad) and screenwriter (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle), turns her attention in these hilarious essays to such varied topics as her adversarial relationship with her handbag, an uneventful internship at the Kennedy White House, and the Sisyphean task of maintaining one’s physical appearance as time marches on. “Maintenance,” Ephron writes, “is what they mean when they say, ‘After a certain point, it’s just patch patch patch.'”
Ephron revisits her personal history with wisdom and candor, combining a kind of serene sagacity with her trademark self-deprecating humor. (“Sometimes I think that not having to worry about your hair anymore is the secret upside of death.”) Even as she relates tales of neurotic obsession (in “Serial Monogamy: A Memoir,” about her imagined friendships with cookbook authors; in “Moving On,” about renting an apartment in Manhattan’s coveted Apthorp building), her writing has a certain tenderness. The final essay, “Considering the Alternative,” manages to address the subject of death in an honest and heartfelt way, neither degenerating into triteness nor compromising Ephron’s characteristic wit.
Lighter and less self-consciously political than Wendy Wasserstein’s Shiksa Goddess, I Feel Bad About My Neck speaks to the experience of the smart and savvy set of upper East- and West- Side Jewish women, and will appeal most to the reader ‘of a certain age’—in this case, Ephron’s age, which is 65. Nonetheless, these essays have advice to offer the younger woman (such as to put on a bikini immediately and not remove it until the age of 34).
Experts agree that laughter makes us look and feel younger. I Feel Bad About My Neck delivers better than any wrinkle cream.
Spencer Merolla is working toward her masters in Hebrew and Judaic Studies at NYU.